Hattiesburg, Miss. -- More than 100 trainer/mentors from across First Army Division East recently teamed up to train and mentor more than 2,000 Soldiers from the Louisiana National Guard's 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team at their annual training exercise at Camp Shelby, Miss.

"Although this training format is different from our recent training set of preparing mobilizing Soldiers and units for deployment, one of the most important things we can do as trainer/mentors is help National Guard and Reserve Component Soldiers continue to maintain their combat readiness during annual training exercises," said Lt. Col. John Zeigler, 157th Infantry Brigade, deputy commanding officer, First Army Division East.

Trainer mentors representing the 157th Infantry Brigade from Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, Ind., 177th Armored Brigade and 158th Infantry Brigade from Camp Shelby, Miss., and 188th Infantry Brigade from Fort Stewart, Ga., supported platoon-level training for the battalions within the 256th IBCT. During the 10-day training cycle most of the training focused on four forward support companies from the brigade support battalion, the scout platoons from the cavalry battalion, the military police platoon and chemical platoon from the brigade special troops battalion, and two artillery firing batteries.

"This AT was well received by our Soldiers as this was a great opportunity to practice individual military occupational specialties and focus on the Soldiers' individual craft," said Lt. Col. William Rachal, deputy commanding officer, 256th IBCT. "It allowed us all to get back to the basics. Our food service Soldiers were able to set up and cook in containerized kitchens, our support battalions went through an ammunitions draw, our scouts were able to do reconnaissance missions, and our field artillery batteries were able to put rounds down range."

"In essence, the 157th Infantry Brigade had a huge chunk of the support piece," continued Rachal.

Reserve component forces participate in Annual Training exercises to the maintain individual and lower level collective skill sets that play into the unit's proficiency on the more complex higher level collective tasks that are required for real world deployments.

"Due to the importance of unit readiness these opportunities represent, First Army Division East will always, within our abilities, offer assistance and participation in a teaching, training, mentoring role to our comrades in the National Guard and Army Reserve," said Col. Timothy Newsome, First Army Division East director of operations.

"Thus, while mobilizations for deployment may be decreasing, we'll work shoulder to shoulder with our Reserve Component Counterparts to ensure the enhanced levels of proficiency and effectiveness attained in the last twelve years are maintained."

Because of 157th Infantry Brigade's extensive knowledge on preparing units to mobilize worldwide, the 256th IBCT received the most current, realistic, and up-to-date training.

"One of the significant benefits of having the trainer/mentors from First Army Division East is that it enabled us to train collectively without further reducing our own footprint by taking assets out of hide to evaluate our own training," said Rachal.

Each First Army Division East trainer/mentor team provided immediate feedback to the 256th team leaders as well as an in-depth after action review each day.

"We interacted primarily with the 256th IBCT leadership team in the truest sense of the word mentor. Our own goals were to quickly figure out how to best communicate with our National Guard counterparts and help them improve," said Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Stivers, trainer/mentor of the 157th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East.

Having most recently returned from a deployment providing security for Operation Iraqi Freedom, much of the past annual training exercises of the 256th IBCT focused on counterinsurgency operations and smaller scale readiness requirements such as Soldier readiness processing and warrior tasks.

"For this AT, our goal was to get back into light infantry tactics, starting off at the squad level tactic, techniques and procedures, using the live fire exercises, and then focus our efforts on platoon level proficiency using the maneuver lanes," said Rachal.

Firing more than 700-105mm howitzer rounds down range was a highlight for both the artillery batteries of the 256th IBCT as well as the artillery trainer/mentors from the 157th Infantry Brigade.

"The field artillery leadership were willing to listen to our input and adjusted their tactics, techniques and procedures. It was awesome to see how quickly they became a cohesive team," said Stivers.

"One of the biggest lessons learned from this annual training is that our leadership got a chance to see the capabilities of the Soldiers and their equipment. It is so important to actually practice the whole process rather than it being academic in a classroom. We got an appreciation to see how quickly our Soldiers can put steel on a target," said Rachal.

According to Rachel, a critical aspect of any training exercise is identifying trends to maintain strengths, and identifying areas needing adjustment.

"We are more confident we are a solid unit with our current model due in no small part do our Soldiers and the ability of the 157th Infantry Brigade to allow our own leadership to take part in the training by serving as T/Ms," said Rachal.

The 157th Infantry Brigade trains and mentors Reserve Component units to prepare those forces for deployment and contingency operations by providing realistic and relevant, complex operational environment based training reflecting the most current conditions Soldiers will face in theater.