FORT PICKETT, Va. – Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command descended on Fort Pickett June 6-20, 2015, for annual training. The two-week training period focused on the unit’s Mission Essential Task List, or METL, a list of tasks required by the soldiers at the individual, squad and company-level specific to their unit or job.
“The annual training’s focus this year was back to basics,” explained Maj. Colin Noyes, commander of the 276th Engineer Battalion. “Going slow, being safe, accomplishing the basics – Army Warrior Tasks, battle drills, your basic individual METL tasks – that’s what we focused on this year.”
The 276th Engineer Battalion is unique in that it’s not only home to the majority of the Virginia National Guard’s engineer assets, but the unit also serves as the Virginia National Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, High-Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, or CERFP, a response force made up of several specialized elements capable of providing support to first responders and civil authorities in the event of a disaster. The CERFP underwent an external evaluation just weeks before the 276th Engineer Battalion’s annual training period, which gave the Soldiers of the battalion time to shift focus to their engineer mission.
“What’s unique is three weeks ago was the [external evaluation] for CERFP, and then we have to take off that hat and put on our other hat and go out and do our other missions,” Noyes explained.
Soldiers of the West Point-based 237th Engineer Company (Sappers) went back to basics with their demolitions training during annual training, shifting from their recently-validated role in the CERFP as the search and extraction element and blowing an approximate 300 pounds of demolitions during their time at Fort Pickett.
“It’s going really well and we’re getting a lot of tactical time which is good because balancing with the CERFP pulls us away from our METL training a bit, so we’re getting a lot of time to do the stuff that we don’t necessarily get to do that often because of our dual mission,” explained 1st Lt. Shawn Proctor, commander of the 237th Engineer Company.
In the first days of annual training, the 237th, along with the Rocky Mount-based 229th Chemical Company, focused on weapons qualifications and individual METL tasks before moving into a 72-hour field training exercise that brought both companies together to hone their unique skillsets.
Soldiers of the 237th Engineer Company focused on basic engineer missions during the FTX, conducting bridge reconnaissance missions and putting up obstacles to stop the enemy.
Sgt. Jeffrey Berger, a squad leader in the 237th, said their job was to occupy the area, make sure it was secure and prevent the opposing forces, played by Soldiers from the Bowling Green-based 189th Multi-Role Bridge Company, from getting in.
“You’re always doing something and you’re staying busy,” Berger said of the FTX, which he claimed as his favorite part of this year’s annual training. He also said the FTX gave him time to get to know his Soldiers better due to the increased amount of time spent together as a squad.
Noyes explained that missions were passed down from the Headquarters Support Company to the units during the FTX and relied on the company commanders to validate the METL tasks.
“We have recieved some really good training and now we have something to build on for next year,” Noyes said.
For the 229th Chemical Company, the focus during the FTX was on taking air samples and working on decontamination, as well as honing their tactical skills as well. The 229th comes equipped with specialized vehicles that filter and analyze the air to ensure it’s free of contaminants, as well as infrared cameras that could detect the opposing forces as they attempted a night attack.
The 229th also has the ability to decontaminate and clean vehicles with specialized equipment designed for that purpose. Using an M12 Power-Driven Decontaminating Apparatus, Soldiers of the 229th Chemical Company cleaned engineer equipment belonging to the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company. The training not only allowed the Soldiers to improve their skills using the equipment, but also allowed them to provide real-world assistance to another company within the battalion.
Pvt. Eli Smith, who works in biological detection in the 229th Chemical Company, said that this was his first ever annual training and that he’d done a little bit of everything, from weapons qualifications to learned how to use his unit’s specialized equipment.
Elsewhere on Fort Pickett, the 157th Engineer Platoon (Quarry Detachment) and the Cedar Bluff-based 1033rd Engineer Support Company conducted real-world missions. While the majority of the 1033rd will head to Germany later this year for their annual training, a portion of the unit spent two weeks with the rest of the battalion providing engineer support to Fort Pickett with support from the 157th Engineer Platoon.
The 157th Engineer Platoon is one of only nine quarry platoons and the Soldiers of that unit spent their annual training conducting quarry operations and providing support to the 1033rd Engineer Support Company.
Soldiers of the 276th Engineer Battalion’s Forward Support Company were also busy conducting their real world missions both at Fort Pickett and other points across the commonwealth.
“The FSC cooks cooked out of the [containerized kitchen] for the first time and they’ve been cooking for the last couple of mornings and evenings,” explained Noyes, who said the cooks were working toward preparing for the Philip A. Connelly Awards program, a competition in which cooks from various units compete in various categories. He said the cooks had received support from their brigade, the 91st Troop Command as well. “That’s a learning event for them.”
Noyes also indicated that maintenance personnel were also keeping busy, working on supporting the units training at Fort Pickett as well as the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, who spent their annual training period in Henry County, Va., continuing construction work on an Innovative Readiness Training project where they excavated and graded a 15-acre project.
For the 189th Multi-Role Bridge Company, this year’s annual training was the unit’s last, as it will become part of the newly designed Brigade Engineer Battalion under the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. To mark this transition, the company conducted a pass and review parade June 19, 2015, as ceremonial recognition of the unit.
“This has been an outstanding AT,” Noyes said. “We’ve done pretty well with safety and getting all these individual tasks and briefs accomplished.”