Va. Guard RTI builds infantry skills at basic, advanced level

Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers conduct an assault on a training village at Fort Pickett May 13, 2015, during the 11B Infantry Transition Course and the Light Leader Course, both taught at the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers conduct an assault on a training village at Fort Pickett May 13, 2015, during the 11B Infantry Transition Course and the Light Leader Course, both taught at the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. – At the Virginia National Guard’s Fort Pickett-based 1st Battalion, 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, cadre and staff hosted two classes concurrently for the first two weeks of May. Both the 11B Infantry Transition Course, which takes Soldiers from different backgrounds and military occupational specialties and forges them into infantrymen, and the Light Leader Course, a rugged back-to-basics light infantry tactics and training course for infantry leaders, were on ground May 2 – 16, 2015.

Both courses are just part of the course catalog offered by 1st Battalion, which focuses on providing superb infantry training to infantry Soldiers and leaders at various career points, and both U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers from across the country traveled to Fort Pickett to attend the courses.

In essence, the courses both focus on infantry basics, but differ in difficulty, purpose and scope. The transition course aims to build a basic understanding of infantry tactics among those attending the course and is typically attended by junior Soldiers, while the Light Leader Course, typically attended by noncommissioned officers, or NCOs, focuses on mastery of those infantry tactics and hones in on the traditional skills used by light infantrymen.

“The Light Leader Course is designed to take infantrymen in the National Guard and give them a two-week prep course on light infantry tactics,” explained Staff Sgt. Ed LaChance, chief instructor for the Light Leader Course. “We focus on patrol base activities, dismounted operations, how to enter and clear a room, working in an urban operations environment and basically, [the course] puts the foot soldiering back into the infantry.”

LaChance explained that recent conflicts have made light infantrymen more reliant on support, as they’ve fought more in a mounted environment, buttoned up in armored vehicles or working out of Forward Operating Bases, or FOBs, where they have extensive support. LaChance and the RTI cadre believe future conflicts will require light infantrymen to return to their traditional roles, as foot Soldiers, moving across terrain without support or vehicles, carrying all that they need on their backs.

Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers conduct room clearing training May 14, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va., during the 11B Infantry Transition Course, taught at the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. The two-week course aims to provide a base of knowledge for Soldiers transitioning to the 11B military occupational speciality and was attended by 13 students from across the country. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers conduct room clearing training May 14, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va., during the 11B Infantry Transition Course, taught at the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. The two-week course aims to provide a base of knowledge for Soldiers transitioning to the 11B military occupational speciality and was attended by 13 students from across the country. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

“A lot of these guys come to us without any walking-in-the-woods or light infantry skills, and all my instructors harp on that quite a bit,” LaChance said. “It’s sacred and important to us that we get these skills back into the force.”

For the Light Leader Course, the cadre discussed current events. They looked at what threats exist in today’s world and from there created a scenario with a fictional country that included elements of threats from different parts of the world. For the five-day field exercise, that scenario was the one the light leaders operated in, on a nearly non-stop basis, stopping only for the occasional refit or After Action Review, or AAR.

“It’s demanding when you’re out here for five days in the heat and the sun and the dirt,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Sharkey, of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division. “It’s a very physically demanding course, a very time demanding course, but we have a good group of guys who have come together and are working together to accomplish all the missions we’ve been given and ultimately, there’s no better group of guys than a group of guys you’re sharing misery with.”

Sharkey, formerly of the Marine Corps, said he became an infantrymen because, as a Marine working in aviation, “I always admired that these guys would come back to the base dirty, battle-tested, gritty and there’s a certain sense of pride and admiration for the guys that could do that. I wanted to challenge myself and there was a unit close to where I was going to college at the time, so I thought I’d give it a shot.”

Spc. Joshua Johnson, A Virginia Guardsmen assigned to 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and who attended the transition course, echoed Sharkey’s sentiments about why he choose to be an infantrymen. Johnson, like Sharkey, came to the National Guard from the Marine Corps, and said, “After working with a lot of infantrymen while in the Marines, it seemed like that was more of a fit for me.”

Johnson said he believes in fighting for the things that one believes in and added that his commitment to protect his family and his nation aided in his decision to make the transition as an infantryman. “I really think infantrymen are the backbone of the military because you can drop bombs where you want to, but sometimes you need guys on the ground to provide precision fire and to do it effectively,” Johnson said.

In the transition course, Johnson and his classmates focused on the basics, going over map reading and land navigation, weapons familiarization, room clearing, convoy operations and patrolling techniques.

“The infantry, at its core, is here to find, fix, and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver,” explained Sgt. Dwayne Lam, one of the transition course instructors. “A confident, well-trained and aggressive infantryman is the pride of the U.S. Army.”

Lam explained that the course includes some classroom instruction on various tasks, but that the men are armed and put on patrol as quickly as possible, learning appropriate formations and conducting battle drills. The focus is on hands-on, field training, designed to familiarize the new infantrymen with weapons and equipment and then training them on squad level maneuevers. The students spend the bulk of their second week in the field, working through squad training exercises, how to fight in an urban environment and conducting convoy operations.

“It’s been great,” Johnson said. “We’ve been pretty tired, but at the same time, I think a lot of us have learned a lot, even though some of us have some years in the military, a lot of us have learned a lot of different things and it’s really important stuff too, and it’s sort of out of the box stuff that some of us would never have thought of before.”

Teaching outside of the box and expanding on the standard course requirements is something that many of the RTI’s cadre pride themselves on. For example, the field time required for the Light Leader Course is just two days, but LaChance and his team more than doubled that for the most recent class, ensuring maximum training value while the students are on the ground. LaChance emphasized that the Light Leader Course is one of the only courses that enables Soldiers to master foot Soldier skills without attending a longer, more arduous and expensive course, like Ranger School.

Army National Guard Soldiers conduct an assault on a training village May 14, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va., as part of the Light Leader Course, taught at Fort Pickett’s 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Army National Guard Soldiers conduct an assault on a training village May 14, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va., as part of the Light Leader Course, taught at Fort Pickett’s 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

In addition to the doubled field time, the Light Leader Course was also supported by Soldiers of the Virginia National Guard’s Bowling Green-based Detachment 1, Company B, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and their unmanned aircraft system, the RQ-7 Shadow, capable of providing real-time full motion video via remote terminal, printed and video images, as well as FM communication relay.

“The Soldiers in the course got a huge benefit by actually coordinating with us as the support element and getting eyes on the objective for planning their missions,” explained Staff Sgt. Michael Mayhew, of the UAS Platoon. “They also got live call-outs from the operator of the UAS, such as intelligence updates and where the [opposing forces] were located.”

This addition to the course, like the extended field time and the other embellishments made by LaChance and his team, as well as the instructors of the other RTI courses, are done because of a dedication to excellence found among the Virginia Guard RTI cadre.

“A unique confluence of excellent and experienced instructors and support staff, our location on Fort Pickett with 43,000 acres of training land, a modern suite of ranges and training facilities, a modern, full-size RTI campus and a highly supportive Adjutant General make our RTI stand out,” said Lt. Col. Charlton Dunn, commander of the RTI’s 1st Battalion.

Spc. Edwin Anderson, of 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and attending the transition course, said the drive of the cadre increased the effectiveness of their teaching, and said, “The instructors have been a little hard on us, but we needed it. They’ve shown that they care about us, as troops, and they have a genuine passion for what they’re doing that makes it easy to learn.”

The 183rd RTI is designated as an Institute of Excellence by U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, based on an in-depth accreditation process that happens triennially. The Regiment’s 1st Battalion earned a 100 percent rating at their last evaluation, in 2013.

“Ultimately, we hope to instill an individual proclivity to seek maximum potential through lifelong learning, both institutional, self-developmental, civilian and unit training,” explained Dunn. “Not only does this yield the highest quality leaders for our mission, but it also develops an inherent ability to learn and adapt faster, allowing our military to get inside our opponent’s decision cycles.”

LaChance said the most important lesson he hopes to instill in the men who attend his course is the importance of mastering light infantry skills. “If they don’t get these skills down, before they’re in front of their men, their men are going to die as a result.

“We tell them that they’re going to make mistakes, we tell them that we’re going to make sure they make mistakes here, but the idea is that they make those mistakes here, when they’re among NCOs, so they’re not in front of their men looking foolish and they can go back to their units and train their men better,” LaChance explained. “By the end, they’re all smiling and they’re confident. They’ve had their butts whooped for a week, they’ve been shamed a lot, but it all comes out good. They walk out of here knowing a lot.”

The Light Leader Course finished with 12 students, while the transition course finished with 13.

“This course is hard,” said Spc. Eddy Hernandez of 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, about the Light Leader Course. Hernandez ended up in the course due to an administrative glitch and it was his first course outside of initial entry training. He said the rucking with 90 pounds on his back was especially hard, but also said, “The instructors have been awesome. They know a lot, and I’ve learned a lot and I’m a better leader now than I was before.”

In addition to the transition course and the Light Leader Course, the 183rd RTI’s 1st Battalion also teaches an Advanced Leader Course for infantrymen, an 11C Indirect Fire Infantryman Course, for Soldiers transitioning to the 11C MOS, as well as a Rappel Master Course. In the months preceding May, the cadre taught three iterations of both the Advanced Leader Course and the 11C Course and one Rappel Master Course, with another to follow later this summer.

Located at Fort Pickett, the 183rd Regional Training Institute includes more than 70 instructors supported by more than 30 staff personnel. The schoolhouse was completed in 2011 and includes approximately 400,000 square feet of instruction space, including a combatives training room, eight modular classrooms and a lecture hall capable of accommodating 480 students, along with three barracks with two-person rooms and open bay housing that can accommodate 275 students. At Fort Pickett, instructors and students can reach training sites within five minutes, including a variety of ranges, convoy and live fire lanes, an urban assault course, training villages, field training lanes, an air assault tower and obstacle course and an extensive urban training site.

Army National Guard Soldiers conduct an assault on a training village May 14, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va., as part of the Light Leader Course, taught at Fort Pickett’s 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. The course trains light infantry leaders in a back-to-basics style that focuses on core infantry tactics. The course first builds confidence among the leaders at the rappel tower then pushes them physically and mentally in the field for nearly a week. The two-week course was attended by 12 students from states including California, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland and Virginia. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Army National Guard Soldiers conduct an assault on a training village May 14, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va., as part of the Light Leader Course, taught at Fort Pickett’s 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. The course trains light infantry leaders in a back-to-basics style that focuses on core infantry tactics. The course first builds confidence among the leaders at the rappel tower then pushes them physically and mentally in the field for nearly a week. The two-week course was attended by 12 students from states including California, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland and Virginia. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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Photos: 183rd RTI provides infantry training to new, advanced infantrymen – May 13-14, 2015