SANDSTON, Va. — More than 95 Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Hampton-based Battery B, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conducted annual training Oct. 28 to Nov. 16, 2015, at Fort Polk, Louisiana, along with Soldiers from Headquarters Battery, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, and Company G, 429th Brigade Support Battalion. During the three weeks of training, they simulated an opposing force for an active duty brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division conducting Joint Readiness Training Center Rotation 16-02.
Battery B was tasked with simulating two elements from a hybrid threat that combined traditional combat units with insurgent, guerrilla and criminal elements, explained Capt. David Coyle, commander of Battery B. They simulated vehicles with multiple rocket launch system capabilities and also acted as “guerrilla artillery” as well as more traditional artillery and rocket sections. The brigade from the 82nd was conducting a validation exercise to prepare for assuming their role in the Global Response Force mission.
“I felt that this mission would be an excellent opportunity for the battery to operate in a manner they really had never done before,” Coyle said. “While obviously the simulation of MLRS vehicles isn’t something that fits into our training plan, the use of land navigation, night movement, terrain analysis, battle tracking, section independent firing, cache logistics and counter-surveillance techniques are all areas of training we’ve had very little opportunity to directly train on, especially against a top notch foe like the 82nd that is aiming at validating their own techniques.”
Battery B commercial hauled equipment to Fort Polk where they were outfitted with visual modification kits to give them a more distinctive look associated with the simulated threat facing the Soldiers from the 82nd, Coyle said. Battery B Soldiers also wore different uniforms and were allowed relaxed grooming standards to complete their transformation into the opposing force.
The experience at JRTC had tremendous training value, Coyle said.
“We had the additional bonus of seeing the consequences of operating in a more conventional manner as we were able to destroy artillery systems and concentrated formations while suffering relatively light counter fire,” he said. “I really think this made an impression on our Soldiers and gave them a sense of what it might be like overseas against a competent enemy.”
Coyle said that he felt his unit met the training objectives he set before the rotation began. Battery B Soldiers developed highly effective concealment techniques that thwarted efforts to locate them on the simulated battlefield, with the search effort at one point growing to two A-10s airplanes, eight Apache helicopters and four Predator unmanned aerial vehicles. The Soldiers also dramatically improved their emplacement and displacement times making them even more difficult to find, and they didn’t lose a single piece of equipment to counter-fire during the entire two-week rotation.
Leaders brought home a book of lessons learned with areas identified to continue their training development, he said. They plan to work on battle tracking, movement planning, integration with maneuver forces, improving ammunition caches and counter-surveillance movement.
The rotation gave Battery B Soldiers a chance to see first hand what a potential threat force might look like as well as a better sense of how to train to a particular standard that was different from what they normally trained to, Coyle said. The flexibility in their training also allowed for opportunities to give more junior Soldiers leadership experience.
The JRTC rotation also provided a valuable opportunity for Guard-to-Guard relationship building as the Virginia Soldiers worked closely with elements of the Louisiana National Guard, Coyle said. The units were able to look out for each other and provide an even more valuable training resource.
“I think this training really gave our Soldiers the understanding and concept of how we would support the 116th IBCT with fires and maintain survivability against a top-tier enemy,” he said. “They really enjoyed the training, and while tiring, it is exactly what they joined to do. They want to be field Soldiers and to be the best of the best, and I think they showed that they can go toe-to-toe with any military in the world and perform well. That confidence, along with really doing what they joined to do, is key to retention.”