STAUNTON, Va. — In June, Soldiers of the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team had the privilege of traveling to Fort Drum, N.Y., to participate in the first Multi-echelon Integrated Brigade Training exercise run by First Army Division East.
The brigade’s headquarters and five of its battalions moved more than 1,600 Soldiers and 1,000 pieces of heavy equipment to Fort Drum on June 6 and moved out to the field immediately. Soldiers worked around the clock to establish operations in the marshy training areas and continued for 12 days to operate in a simulated deployed environment.
The MIBT was designed to provide a National Guard brigade a Combat Training Center-like rotation but at a lower price point. Much like the eXportable Combat Training Capabilities exercise the 116th IBCT did in June 2014, Virginia National Guard Soldiers were evaluated by observer-coach/trainers from First Army. But unlike XCTC, it was First Army and 116th IBCT battle staff that created the training objectives and coordinated their execution, not civilian contractors.
The unfamiliar terrain and austere living conditions emphasized the commander’s goal of returning to doctrinal fieldcraft. After years of deployments to urban areas where Soldiers could fall in on hard stands and a minimal amount of infrastructure, the armed services are returning to this kind of tactical training environment so they can be ready for whatever fight comes next.
“The lack of hard stand facilities or barracks in no way diminished the Soldiers’ enthusiasm and for a lot of individuals probably increased it,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Cree, commander of the Danville-based 429th Brigade Support Battalion. “Through the rain, and at times the cold, the Soldiers always maintained a positive attitude. They’ve learned a lot and are more confident in their abilities to conduct sustained operations in the field.”
While operating in less than ideal terrain and weather, the brigade’s companies demonstrated their proficiency on validation lanes. Validating 116th IBCT companies was the major training objective for this exercise, in accordance with the Army Force Generation model, which is used to manage the force and ensure the ability to support demands for Army forces.
To prepare for these evaluations, units built upon the previous year’s platoon-level validations during the brigade’s XCTC rotation. Over drill weekends, commanders at all levels emphasized mission command, a philosophy that relies on agile and adaptive leaders at all levels to conduct unified land operations with the commander’s intent in mind.
“During our five-day squadron field exercise, all companies were operating in the same area,” said Lt. Col. Russell McGuire, commander of Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment. “This forced the units to think about who is on their left and right, and they may not be from their same unit. In order to operate successfully in that situation they had to exercise that mission command of talking to each other, coordinating signals, and sectors of fire.”
“This exercise has been invaluable as far as leadership development of the brigade and our ability to conduct mission command, even Soldiers down the line understand that,” said Col. William Coffin, commander of the 116th IBCT.
This operation style helped tremendously in executing a major theme of the MIBT, integrating enablers both joint and combined. The keystone event of this exercise, 1st Battalion’s combined arms live fire lane, showcased the brigade’s combat enablers and ability to successfully integrate them on the battlefield.
Infantry troops worked alongside scouts and mortarmen of the Lynchburg-based battalion, engineers of Fredericksburg-based Company A, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, and forward observers of Staunton-based Headquarters Company, 116th IBCT. All while artillery Soldiers of the brigade’s Hampton-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment provided indirect fire. Joint terminal attack controllers of the 18th Air Support Operations Squadron, North Carolina Air National Guard attached to the companies during the exercise, just as they would for a brigade deployment. And active duty Soldiers of Fort Drum’s 10th Combat Aviation Brigade provided air support for medical evacuation portions of the exercise.
“The key to the success for this whole brigade is our leadership and stellar NCO corps that make everything happen,” said Coffin. “I’m very proud of the Soldiers of the Stonewall brigade, they continue to surprise me with their ingenuity and ability to deal with the rough conditions.”