FORT KNOX, Ky. (Aug. 19, 2013) -- The early morning sun peeked through the forest canopy as the Soldiers of Second Platoon, Bravo Company, 2-130th Infantry Battalion, quietly and swiftly moved through underbrush toward a ridge.

Suddenly, the sound of bullets cracked the silence.

"Return fire! Return fire!" screamed 1st Lt. James Reid, platoon leader with Bravo Company, 2-130th Infantry Battalion.

While the bullets weren't real, the training, however, was as realistic as possible.

"In the past, we've trained units on very Afghan-, Iraq-centric squadron, platoon level operations," said Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Gardner, a trainer/mentor with the 1-335th Infantry Battalion, 205th Infantry Brigade. "That's changing now. We are preparing units to engage on a company-to-company level."

The Illinois National Guard Soldiers spent three days preparing for the company assault. As the Army draws down the number of Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, reserve-component units are more frequently turning to First Army to assist them in maintaining their readiness. Recently, Trainer/Mentors with 205th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East, advised and assisted the Illinois National Guard in planning and executing their annual training event.

"You never know when a mission will pop up domestically or internationally," explained Capt. Jeff Hicks, commander of Bravo Company, 2-130th Infantry Battalion. "It's important that Soldiers are prepared. You owe it to the Soldier, to their families, and to the American people."

In 2009, the 2-130th Infantry Battalion was part of the largest mobilization of Illinois National Guard since World War II. Since returning from the deployment, the unit has been on track with their Army Force Generation cycle. This is the unit's validation year. They were slated to complete a training rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., to put all their individual and collective warfighting skills to the test. This is necessary as the unit becomes eligible to deploy next year.

While the unit has trained since their redeployment in 2010, Illinois National Guard leaders wanted to ensure their Soldiers were meeting the Army Force Generation model's check points of reset, and train/ready, so they were available for warfighter or state-directed mobilizations. When their upcoming rotation to the Joint Readiness Training Center was canceled, they were quick to contact the 1-335th Infantry Battalion for training assistance.

Leaders at 1-335 Inf. Bn were ready and willing to assist.

"We are the regionally-aligned trainers supporting this area," said Maj. Jose Hernandez, executive officer of the 1-335th Infantry Battalion. "It's a prime opportunity to build relationships with surrounding units while enhancing the Army's force capabilities."

The ARFORGEN process is the structured progression of unit readiness over time to produce trained, ready, and cohesive units prepared for operational deployment in support of Army requirements. The ARFORGEN process is the Army's core process for force generation that cycles units through three force pools: reset, train/ready, and available. Each of the three force pools contains a balanced force capability to provide a sustained flow of forces for current commitments and to hedge against unexpected contingencies. ARFORGEN establishes the basis to plan and execute Army wide unit resourcing.

Since their redeployment, the unit focused on maintenance and training to ensure equipment and Soldiers met their war-time mission standards. The culminating training they received with 205th Inf. Bde assistance allowed outside eyes to validate their readiness.

"The two-day battle assembly doesn't give Soldiers enough time to build the kind of muscle memory they need to be proficient in their jobs," said Hicks, from Loami, Ill. Before the war, the Army National Guard Soldiers reported for duty one weekend each month and two weeks in the summer.

Annual Training is the perfect time to test their skills, added Hicks, a military technician at Joint Force Headquarters in Springfield, Ill.

Spc. Brayden Ledbetter, an Illinois National Guard infantryman, agreed.

"It was a really good opportunity to work in leadership positions and develop our leadership skills through this training," said Ledbetter, who previously served in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division. "The planning, the rehearsals before the mission, over and over; everyone knows their buddies' jobs down to the lowest rank."

"The Army has changed a lot in the last decade," said Gardner, from Los Angeles, Calif. "We've focused on building the teams and reinforcing their perishable skills."

First Army Division East trainer/mentors have integrated training procedures unused in nearly a decade with lessons learned from a decade of war to provide the units with the most holistic and up-to-date training. Trainer/mentors provide training based on requirements as requested by reseve-component commanders.

"If you don't have the basic skills like navigation and hand-signals down, you can't move on to your other tasks," Gardner continued. "Everyone has to team-build. You can take the most elite Soldiers from various units, and they'd still have continuity issues."