By First Lt. Michael White May 2, 2013
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Soldiers of A Company (Immortals), 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team Rear, 10th Mountain Division (LI), successfully validated as "combat ready" during a training event March 24-28 at Range 24. The event required Soldiers to complete a platoon live-fire exercise and force-on-force battles.
"Platoon live-fire exercises with battalion validations are a huge milestone in our company training cycle," explained Capt. Ryan David, A Company commander. "We've trained our Soldiers first on the individual level, and then at team and squad levels. Platoon live-fire exercises are the culmination of all previous training, and they give the battalion an opportunity to ensure that platoons can successfully complete missions to standard."
The Immortals began their mission early March 24 to set themselves up for success during the coming week. Preparations included establishing communication systems, setting up tents and validating targets with Fort Drum Range Control personnel. Then the Soldiers began planning for missions, conducting rehearsals and inspecting equipment to ensure that it was mission-ready.
The primary focus of the operation was the platoon live-fire exercise, in which each platoon would run multiple iterations of the same mission. The final day and night runs culminated with Soldiers engaging pop-up targets with live rounds while the platoon maneuvered across the battlefield to secure a village.
"The first iteration we did was a dry run where we completed the mission in its entirety, from leaving the assembly area to reconsolidating on the objective, but with no munitions being expended yet for safety considerations," explained 1st Lt. Timothy Brennan, 3rd Platoon leader. "The next iteration was with blank rounds, and both iterations allowed us to safely refine our tactics before we started working with live rounds."
Once refinements had been made, Soldiers loaded up with live munitions and the platoons would run the missions once again, engaging the targets with rifles, machine guns and 60 mm mortars, shooting rounds in hand-held mode. After three iterations had been completed during the day, both the blank and the live iterations were repeated at night to ensure that platoons could "own the night" and complete missions under night-vision devices.
While one platoon was conducting the live-fire, the other two platoons carried out a force-on-force mission, complete with Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System. As one platoon would establish a defensive position with a section-sized element, the other platoon would conduct an attack on the defensive position.
The lane allowed for a little creativity and called for the ability to quickly adapt to changing situations. A section-sized element from one platoon would act as the enemy, select a defensive position in the training area and set in. The other platoon would receive a mission to attack this enemy position. However, the attacking platoon never knew exactly where the enemy position was, which required quick decision making.
MILES gear provided the Soldiers instant feedback by sounding an alarm when a Soldier was "shot," and it allowed for medics to train on casualty care.
Both exercises were helpful for the senior leaders of each platoon, as they were provided with an overwhelming amount of external assets to work with that they had not previously used. The platoon executing the live-fire lane was provided with unmanned aerial surveillance platforms, mortars and artillery providing indirect fire, and a 60 mm mortar team attachment.
"All my previous experience consisted of leading three line squads and a weapons squad," said 1st Lt. Nikolas Anninos, 2nd Platoon leader. "These different platforms first helped me paint an accurate picture of the battlefield for my men and commander, then efficiently prepped the objective by echeloning fires."
This field exercise was an overwhelming success for A Company, according to 1st Lt. Joseph Graham, company executive officer.
"While we realized we need to tighten our shot group in certain areas, I was incredibly pleased with the smoothness of the operation," he said. "The Immortals were successfully able to train their medics, forward observers, mortar men and all organic infantry platoon personnel."
Overall, David was happy with his Soldiers' performance during the training.
"I'm filled with immense pride when I think about what these Soldiers accomplished," he noted. "Throughout long days and nights trudging through icy swamps, these men displayed the resiliency and tenacity that embodies an Immortal Soldier."
(White serves as a platoon leader with 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment.)