XCTC provides realistic "back to basics" combat training for 116th IBCT Soldiers
June 30, 2014
FORT PICKETT, Va. -- Soldiers of the Virginia National Guard's Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team utilized high-tech gear to get high quality training during the brigade's eXportable Combat Training Capability rotation June 17-26, 2014, at Fort Pickett, Va. With high-tech equipment, intense combat-like conditions and the help of active duty units, 116th IBCT troops and their leaders left their 2014 annual training better trained, motivated and informed than when they arrived two weeks earlier.
Seventy platoons of the brigade and 10 of the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division conducted approximately 1,300 training lane iterations during the rotation. Soldiers of the 116th IBCT participated in training lanes such as engineer route reconnaissance, air assaulting infantry units, water extraction with cavalry, artillery support by fire, and convoy live-fire with support units.
More than 2,000 Soldiers were outfitted with Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System gear that tracked Soldiers' movements via GPS and recorded information on shots fired from Soldiers' weapons. Soldiers wore small backpack-like instruments connected to torso and helmet harnesses that sense when a Soldier has been hit. Small arms transmitters that were mounted on the muzzles of weapons used individual coded signals to track shots fired.
"You need unbiased feedback on your performance and this equipment provides just that," said Capt. Bryan Hawley, commander of Sandston-based Battery B, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery. "By training as close as possible to real life I can honestly assess the effectiveness of my unit."
The instrumentation system is primarily used to support platoon to brigade level training. It tracks vehicles and participants to the Soldier level, allowing unit leaders to replay the day's training scenarios and discuss lessons learned during instrumented after action reviews with 2D, 3D, tactical audio, and hand-held video within minutes of mission completion.
"During these AARs we break the lane into collective tasks that should happen when running that kind of mission and lay out what doctrinally should happen for each task," said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Klein, an observer coach trainer attached to the 188th Infantry Brigade, a First Army Division East training brigade based in Fort Stewart, Ga. "Then we show them the 3D video of what actually happened to try to get them to see what actually happened."
The brigade-wide XCTC rotation was designed to train and validate platoons in a realistic continuous field environment under daylight and hours of limited visibility. And infantry units weren't the only ones going through the rigorous training- support and specialty platoons were held to the same standard.
"This exercise allows us to train on the basic Soldier skills of shoot, move, and communicate, in the context of our support mission, which has been fantastic," said Lt. Col. Billy Tucker, commander of the Danville-based 429th Brigade Support Battalion.
The pace of training was meant to acclimate Soldiers to the pace of combat operations so they can be better prepared when they are deployed.
"It's an intense op tempo. We jumped in head first five days ago and we've been going ever since," said Staff Sgt. Randy Hawes, platoon sergeant of Lexington-based 2nd platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment. "But everyone is giving 100 percent, no one is letting anyone carry their weight. We have a good bunch of guys going hard."
Soldiers of the 2-501st PIR helped increase the intensity by playing opposition on the situational training lanes. The active-duty troops were also outfitted with MILES gear to give an accurate and detailed picture during the instrumented AAR's.
The entire XCTC rotation was facilitated by active-duty Soldiers from the Fort Stewart-based 188th Infantry Brigade. The 188th has facilitated several XCTCs and is responsible for many other programs that advise, assist, and train reserve component units to achieve readiness requirements during both pre and post-mobilization.
Aviation Soldiers of the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 91st Troop Command, Virginia Army National Guard and the Fort Campbell-based 6th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division provided air support during numerous air assault and medical evacuation exercises.
The participation of active duty units during XCTC made this an invaluable training event by also allowing all 116th IBCT Soldiers to train simultaneously.
"The key reason why external training, validations are important is because we are a dedicated training audience," said Col. John M. Epperly, commander of the 116th IBCT. "By having an external force observe, control and provide opposition, the more Soldiers you have training.
"Our primary objective was to reach platoon proficiency on a number of collective tasks and battle drills, and we've done that," said Epperly. "And we achieved that goal on 99.9% of the collective battle drill tasks. We also wanted to do more night training, become proficient at using enablers, such as calling for mortar, artillery fire, imbedding engineers in a rifle team, and employing UAVs."
Besides obtaining platoon proficiency, commanders are leaving the training event with solid data they can use to shape effective training schedules in the coming year.
"This is a major training event. At the end, the commanders will get a great take home product with feedback from the exercise, instrumented AARs that give you real time data on your Soldiers' performance and you can use that to determine where you stand on your mission essential task lists," said Tucker, commander of the 429th BSB. "Soldiers have been working really hard this year to build towards this exercise and they're performing well."
While XCTC and training operations like it are expensive, they are more cost effective than combat training centers and pay dividends in the intangible costs of the battlefield.
"If we could do this type of training over a five-year Army Force Generation cycle we could shave off half the time we spend at a mobilization station, allowing us to get into the fight sooner and that's a national priority," said Epperly. "To a unit that is out there waiting for reinforcements those weeks and months make a big difference."
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