By Maj. Jeff Lackner, 1st BSTB executive officerMay 30, 2014
Ten miles into the first day of a field craft training exercise dubbed "Mungadai," the formation led by Lt. Col. James M. DePolo, commander of 1st Brigade Special Troop Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, and Command Sgt. Maj. Andre H. Saintval, senior enlisted adviser, halted as it came upon battalion medical noncommissioned officers who prepared the second class of the day: proper foot maintenance.
The timing was perfect, as it soon became apparent that some of the 35 officers and NCOs in the formation were experiencing severe blisters and other ailments.
After learning about the importance of proper foot maintenance in a light infantry division, the Soldiers continued their mission, now moving "cross country" deep into the wetlands of Training Area 12, where they happened upon two more blocks of instruction covering field expedient shelters and patrol base operations.
By the end of the first day of training, the leaders had moved 14 miles with many in rough shape. The resiliency aspect of the Mungadai had begun, just as planned.
"We wanted to push really hard the first day -- the intent was to drive mental and physical toughness early, pushing our leaders to what they thought was their maximum on the first day, then push even further to force mental toughness to get through the rest of the week," DePolo said.
During the conflicts and deployments over the past 13 years, some have grown accustomed to living in comfortable forward operating bases, living in hard structures with heat and air conditioning, sleeping in the same bed every night, working out in excellent fitness facilities, watching movies at the local Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility, and even enjoying some of their favorite fast food establishments in some areas.
With this in mind, 1st BSTB is working to get its "Iroquois" warriors focused on rapid deployment operations into undeveloped theaters while incorporating traditional light infantry tactics, tech- niques and procedures.
The 1st BSTB executed this field training exercise early in the training density cycle to highlight some aspects of being a Mountain light fighter. They were "living on amber" with blank rounds locked and loaded throughout an ambiguous scenario with frequent mission changes, drawing sustainment out of rucksacks, drinking water out of creeks and sleeping on the ground in small patrol bases -- all while moving long distances on foot.
Focus areas included leading from the front, field craft, leader development, physical and mental toughness, marksmanship, communications, battlefield first aid and teamwork.
Leading up to the exercise, 1st BSTB conducted numerous tactical foot marches up to 10 miles with loads up to 65 pounds, along with embedded tactical training tasks, to prepare the Iroquois leaders. In the end, mental toughness was the key aspect in completing the training.
The exercise began May 12 with a formation consisting of platoon sergeants and above from 1st BSTB. The initial leadership team was composed of Ranger School graduates along with a seasoned sergeant first class Sapper platoon sergeant, who served as assistant platoon leader.
This group seemed more accustomed to the conditions throughout the week and set a positive example for the Iroquois leaders from the start.
Following precombat checks and inspections, the platoon-sized element was trucked to a drop-off point where the trek began. By 10 a.m., the formation had moved tactically under 50- to 65-pound rucksacks for five miles to the first block of instruction -- water procurement and purification at a creek in Training Area 11.
Here, leaders gained a skill that would facilitate their survival: living off of one or two Meals, Ready-to-Eat a day.
On Day 3, the Iroquois leaders were able to enjoy one meal consisting of natural food sources procured and prepared throughout the day; they lived the motto "Mountain Tough."
"There were no measuring criteria for resiliency during this event except for the will and desire of the battalion's leaders to succeed regardless of the difficulties," said Saintval. "This was clearly evident as we shared pain, misery and discomfort."
In four days, Iroquois leaders logged 42 miles of tactical foot marching while experiencing multiple tactical scenarios and changes to missions and leadership roles.
Topics taught during the exercise covered water procurement and purification, field hygiene, establishment of a patrol base, expedient field shelters, field-expedi- ent medical treatment and evacuation, fire starting, jungle antennas, tactical water resupply, cache recovery, food procurement and preparation techniques, advanced marksmanship and landing zone / pick-up zone operations.
With generally favorable weath-er for this event, the patrol did experience a torrential downpour during the second night, which added training value to the exercise as the Iroquois pulled security throughout the evening in their austere patrol base.
Some of the best training came from simply being in the field and learning about how to survive without all of the resources to which some have been accustomed.
On the last day of the event, after the final tactical foot movement, the Iroquois leaders conducted a stress shoot run by 1st BSTB Military Police Platoon.
After zeroing their rifles and conducting a shotgun familiarization fire, Soldiers began the event with full-kit calisthenics and a SKED drag with a 200-pound training aid.
Soldiers then engaged multiple targets under multiple firing scenarios and positions with the M4 rifle and two different shotguns.
Sprinting from covered position to covered position while conducting magazine changes and weapons transitions, every member of the patrol successfully completed the event.
"I was the first to run through the stress shoot, and (I) had no idea how heavy and how hard it would be to drag the SKED in that terrain," DePolo said. "Our MPs made it very realistic with a 165-pound dummy, then added some realism and weight to include body armor and other combat gear.
"After watching some of our leaders fight their ailments all week, while continuing to march, I really didn't think some would be able to drag the dummy and complete the stress shoot. One in particular limped to the start point, and I asked her if she could make it and explained that it was a really heavy dummy.
"Sir, I'm going to do it. I am going to finish this (field training exercise) and will keep driving on just like I have been all week," the injured Soldier said.
Without hesitation, she secured the SKED and dragged it to the first firing position, where she quickly engaged the first three targets with her M4. Shooting and moving as she went, she got to the last station, where she loaded a shotgun and quickly destroyed three reactive targets with buckshot.
"I was truly impressed with her mental toughness and drive throughout the week, as with all who completed the Mungadai -- they are true examples of the type of leaders we want in the Iroquois Battalion," DePolo said.
After completing the stress shoot, the Iroquois leaders took a written test, which covered all of the classes from the week, and conducted peer evaluations.
Finally, the leaders established a PZ and executed an air ex-filtration via UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from 10th Combat Avi- ation Brigade. The exercise culminated May 15 with a family readiness group dinner event and awards ceremony at Remington Pond.
Final conversations revealed high morale and motivation from the training.
"I have never done anything like this in 10 years," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael A. Pantalone, Unmanned Aircraft System Platoon leader.
"It was really tough, but (it was) great training, and I really appreciated it."
In the end, only two Soldiers had to cease training due to ailments on Day 1, while 30 Iroquois leaders completed the rigorous training and exemplified the term "Mountain Tough."
Lakner serves as 1st BSTB executive officer.