5th AR trains 4 route clearance units in 4 weeks
March 19, 2013
McGREGOR RANGE, N.M. --The 50 Soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 364th Engineer Regiment, Task Force Rampant, 5th Armored Brigade, Division West, have the unique mission of providing route clearance-specific training for every Army National Guard or Army Reserve route clearance company preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.
Typically, the unit trains one company per rotation -- a total of 120 to 150 Soldiers.
But, one day last month, Task Force Rampant began simultaneously training all four route clearance companies from the Georgia Army National Guard's 878th Engineer Battalion -- a total of nearly 400 Soldiers. Although they will all fall under the 878th Engineer Battalion once deployed, each company hails from a different state -- 819th Engineer Company from Arizona, 848th Engineer Company from Georgia, 833rd Engineer Company from Iowa and 837th Engineer Company from Ohio.
Planning an exercise of this size and scope was challenging.
"This is the largest exercise our task force has executed to date," said Capt. James Davis, Task Force Rampant operations officer. "We actually started planning over eight months ago… In addition to de-conflicting training between each company, we put a lot of effort into synchronizing the training with the battalion staffs, so the companies can form a good working relationship to continue downrange."
Route clearance training is executed in three phases, culminating in a four-day event simulating the combat environment units are preparing to enter.
During the first phase, Fundamentals of Route Clearance, Soldiers receive classroom instruction and hands-on practice on route clearance equipment and techniques. Focus in this phase is on ensuring Soldiers are confident in their individual abilities to perform their duties. While the majority of this training occurs at McGregor Range, Soldiers also use Virtual Route Clearance simulators at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Staff Sgt. Juan Cabello, Task Force Rampant, is in charge of classes pertaining to post-blast analysis and mine-clearing land charge operations. Although there were more than twice as many Soldiers as usual for this rotation, Cabello said he maintained his standard approach to training.
"There may be more Soldiers, but my job doesn't really change," Cabello said. "As long as the Soldiers stay motivated and active, we're good to go."
During the three days of the second phase of training, Situational Training Exercises, each route clearance platoon receives short missions intended to give Soldiers opportunities to apply individual skills in a platoon environment.
"During STX, we really get to focus on training and mentoring," said Sgt. 1st Class Lamont Carter, Detachment D noncommissioned officer-in-charge. "STX is where we as trainer/mentors are able to have the most influence on how the squads and platoons think and act. It's where we really get to see Soldiers start to work as teams."
After STX, the units transition directly into the third phase, Culminating Training Event, during which companies apply all lessons learned from the previous two phases.
The CTE is four days of 24-hour operations during which all actions have a tactical consequence. During this phase, the 878th Engineer Battalion will have as many as eight route clearance platoons executing missions at any given time.
To keep the training realistic, Sgt. 1st Class Marcus Young has created more than 100 maps complete with detailed routes and village names that the route clearance platoons will use.
Capt. Chase Podsiad, Detachment B officer-in-charge, believes the key to success during this rotation will be effective after-action reviews, short group discussions that highlight positive actions and identify areas that need improvement.
"AARs help Soldiers identify the cause-and-effect relationship between their actions and events that happen during training," Podsiad said. "The best part of this is that it happens through self-realization, which is one of the most effective ways to learn."
While there may be some long working days during this rotation, Staff Sgt. Daniel Denny, Task Force Rampant, said he is looking forward to teaching and mentoring Soldiers preparing to deploy.
"It's rewarding to watch how Soldiers improve and grow during their time training," Denny said.
Command Sgt. Major Leonard Meeks, Task Force Rampant command sergeant major, finds fulfillment in "knowing that when Soldiers leave, we have provided the most realistic and highest-quality training that we possibly could."