116th IBCT more combat ready after XCTC rotation at Fort Pickett

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conduct defensive operations July 29, 2019, as part of the brigade defense field training exercise during eXportable Combat Training Capability Rotation 19-4 at Fort Pickett, Virginia.  (U.S. National Guard photo by Cotton Puryear)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Virginia and Kentucky National Guard Soldiers assigned to the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and enabler units from Guard units in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana and New York honed their combat skills during the eXportable Combat Training Capability Rotation 19-4 July 13 through August 2, 2019, at Fort Pickett, Virginia.

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Norfolk-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conduct training on an air-delivered field artillery raid July 21, 2019, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Sgt. Saul Rosa)

Col. Joseph A. DiNonno, commander of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said he was incredibly proud of the outstanding effort and resilience of the Soldiers of the brigade, and XCTC provide tough, realistic training to prepare our Soldiers for combat, and it is proved to be a valuable and challenging experience.

“The 116th IBCT is a more combat-ready unit as a result of this training, and we are better prepared to face the challenges we could see in an overseas deployment,” DiNonno said. “On behalf of the entire brigade leadership team, I want to thank each and every Soldier for what they accomplished at XCTC, and I also want to thank their families and employers for their support that is so critical to our being able to conduct our mission.”

Soldiers in the brigade took part in nearly 490 iterations of platoon-level situational training exercise lanes focused on mission essential tasks such as attack and defense, movement to contact, area and zone reconnaissance, security screen, emplacing obstacles, building individual and vehicle fighting positions, tactical resupply, vehicle recovery and mass casualty response. Soldiers conducted more than 40 lane iterations at the company level.

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to Suffolk-based Bravo Troop, 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team prepare to kick off an area reconnaissance situational training lane July 16, 2019, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Cotton Puryear)

The brigade conducted 60 live-fire exercises at the platoon level and seven at the company level, firing a variety of weapons systems including individual Soldier weapons, crew-served weapons, mounted machine gunnery, mortars and 105mm and 155mm field artillery.

With the support of the Virginia National Guard’s Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, the brigade conducted 10 air movements and five air assault missions with aviation crews logging nearly 300 flight hours.

“We want to leverage XCTC to validate platoon-level proficiency and readiness using live fire exercises and situational training lanes focused on movement to contact and area defense against a near-peer opposing force,” DiNonno explained before the exercise began. “We want to simulate as much as feasible a realistic training environment for all units, have our battalion leaders validate their platoons while the brigade assesses company, troop and battery proficiency in order to shape training focus for 2020 and prepare us for next year’s Joint Readiness Training Center rotation.”

Many things make an XCTC rotation different from an average annual training, but the presence of enabler units and significant training resources add to the realism and training benefit.

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to Fredericksburg-based 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion train on constructing a wire obstacle, conducting reconnaissance for construct July 20, 2019, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Sgt. Saul Rosa)

“The 116th IBCT performed extremely well during the XCTC, and they were fortunate to have a combined arms team from several states that ultimately enabled the brigade to train as they fight with no notional units required,” said Brig. Gen. Weedon Gallagher, the XCTC Rotation 19-04 exercise director and Virginia National Guard Assistant Adjutant General for Army Strategic Initiatives. “The contracting team from Ravenswood Solutions facilitated a very realistic and challenging combat environment to exercise the brigade, and the Opposing Force from our partners in the 82d Airborne Division contested our Soldiers every step of the way. Observer, Coach/ Trainers from the 188th Infantry Brigade, 1st Army East provided excellent feedback and effective after actions reviews that captured key lessons learned. In all, this demanding training has positioned the brigade well for success at next year’s exercise at JRTC.”

One of the biggest challenges of XCTC 19-4 is getting Soldiers back into a tactical mindset and re-learn the skills needed to operate in the field, DiNonno said. The XCTC’s continuous field operation put Soldiers in an environment where they trained, operated, sustained and lived in tactical field conditions.

“We had more than 3,000 Soldiers on the ground training in record heat, and our brigade medical personnel have treated about 100 Soldiers for heat-related issues with most of them returning to duty.” DiNonno said. “Additional Soldiers with heat-related issues were treated at the company and battalion level and returned to duty. Our Soldiers have different levels of experience with these conditions, and this has provided an opportunity for them to better acclimate to the harsh conditions we could face in combat.”

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team live fire 81mm mortars July 22, 2019, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Cotton Puryear)

Integration of enabling units from other states not normally affiliated with the brigade proved to be excellent training, and units conducted sustainment operations in the field throughout the rotation. Organic and enabler sustainment units managed the more than 2,000,000 rounds expended, distributed 165,000 gallons of water, more than 57,000 MREs and nearly 285,000 pounds of ice to units. Food service specialists prepared more than 83,000 hot meals and maintenance personnel completed nearly 3,900 services on vehicles and equipment.

While XCTC was being conducted, food service specialists assigned to the 429th Brigade Support Battalion competed in the regional Phillip A. Connelly Food Service Competition with the hope of being selected to compete at the national level.

“I feel very strongly that we met our end state objective of validated platoons that will make us poised to ensure company validation at JRTC,” DiNonno said. “The Soldiers of our brigade and all of our enabler units are better prepared for combat as a result of XCTC, and we are on the path for a successful rotation at JRTC next year.”

According to the XCTC web site, the Army National Guard program is an instrumented brigade field training exercise designed to certify platoon proficiency in coordination with First Army. An XCTC rotation provides an experience similar to a Combat Training Center rotation the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, or Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, to a training facility closer to home. XCTC brings full training resource packages to Fort Pickett, reducing the need to spend time and money traveling to a distant training location.

Training lanes are customized to meet the organization’s training objectives. Situational training lanes may include ambushes, hasty attacks, movement to contact, recon missions, vehicle recovery and more.

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Danville-based Headquarters Company, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team prepare a meal while competing in the Philip A. Connelly food service competition July 19, 2019,  at Fort Pickett, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

Training aids included battlefield effects, civilians on the battlefield, foreign national role players, and Soldiers and vehicles outfitted with global positioning system-based instrumentation system tracking technology. The GPS system tracks vehicles and participants to the Soldier level, allowing unit leaders to replay the day’s training scenarios and discuss lessons learned in instrumented after action reviews with 2D, 3D, tactical audio and handheld video within minutes of mission completion.

Trainer / mentors from 1st Army provided feedback to units during their AARs and used the GPS system information to lead the training audience through a detailed review of any moment in the recorded mission, and from any perspective. The TM selectively displays the event of interest in whatever medium best tells the story and the intuitive graphics allowed the Soldier to gain insight not otherwise possible from their position on the battlefield.

About the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team:
The 116th IBCT is authorized approximately 3,500 Soldiers and is the largest major command in the Virginia National Guard. The 116th has units throughout Virginia from Winchester to Pulaski along I-81, from Staunton to Virginia Beach along I-64, from Danville to Lynchburg to Warrenton along Route 29 as well as Fredericksburg, Manassas and Leesburg. An infantry battalion based in Barbourville, Kentucky, is also aligned with the 116th for training and readiness oversight. A brigade combat team is the basic deployable unit of maneuver in the U.S. Army and carries with it support units necessary to sustain its operations away from its parent division. The 116th consists of three infantry battalions, a cavalry squadron, a field artillery battalion, a brigade support battalion and brigade engineer battalion.

Kentucky National Guard Soldiers assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment and Arkansas National Guard Soldiers assigned to the 1036th Engineer Company, 875th Engineer Battalion breach and assault an objective on the Infantry Platoon Battle Course July 23, 2019, during the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team eXportable Combat Training Capability Rotation 19-4 at Fort Pickett, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Jeff Clements)