Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI) conducted an eXportable Combat Training Capability exercise alongside Michigan National Guard's 1st Battalion, 119th Field Artillery Regiment at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center, Mich. throughout the month of July.
"EXportable Combat Training Capability is to take [units] around to various training installations so that the National Guard can have a combat training capability rotation where they pair a National Guard brigade with an active duty battalion," said Lt. Col. Joseph Escandon, commander of 1-87IN. "The training exercise itself was to provide some integration between the active duty and reserve component and field artillery and infantry, but for 1-87, we were focused on platoon level tactical training. This is also that we can prepare for platoon live-fires in late August."
During the 16 days of training, the units worked to tighten their skills in working together at the platoon and company level.
"I would call it back to the basics of light-infantry skills," said Escandon. "We did move around in some vehicles, but we weren't fighting from MATV's (mine resistant ambush protected all terrain vehicle) or anything like that. Pretty much everywhere the platoons went, they either walked or they conducted an air assault. There were some admin moves in support of [1-119] piece, but for the most part, they slept in patrol bases at night and moved to their STX (situational training exercise) lanes the next day."
Although the Soldiers were tired from long nights, they kept motivated to ensure they didn't let each other down by not performing their duties properly. Soldiers conducting field-training exercises usually deal with challenges and have to overcome hardships, but it's very common that the morale of the unit rises and brings them closer together as a team.
"Morale was great from the day we got here," said Escandon. "Soldiers are in a new environment, they're conducting some great training that has fantastic resources, and they're highly motivated to be out here and to go out and attack what we have set up for them."
The night prior to the culminating event, leadership conducted a conditions check to ensure all aspects were in place and to mitigate all risks and to ensure the most successful mission possible.
Along with the conditions check, a full-dress rehearsal was conducted to tighten up all loose ends that may have not been noticed during the planning phase.
"In terms of the integration, you kind of have to have the broad definition of integration," Escandon said. "Any time you take two units and put them together, and make them work together, they're going to find where they can support each other and where the gaps are."
Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. also participated during the exercise by providing Soldiers to act as enemy role-players to give the training Soldiers a more realistic scenario.
"It's always better to be on the other side and watch them do it instead of being the one doing it because you get to see how they maneuver and you can see mistakes they may make, and if I maneuver the same way, I can learn from their mistakes and fix them," said Staff Sgt. Keith Iekar, a squad leader, and an enemy role-player during the exercise, with C Co., 2-22IN.
Participating Soldiers stormed the objective by conducting air-assaults out of UH-60 Blackhawks and CH-47 Chinooks in order to quickly take control of and secure the missions' critical target objectives.
"I think they did pretty good at moving pretty fast on the objective," said Iekar. "I am able to see how they maneuver and make mental notes, so when I'm on the other side, I can remember and maybe it will help me."
During the exercise, 1st BCT Soldiers were attached to 1-119, out of Camp Grayling, by providing indirect fire support for the troops on the ground.
"It was multi-echelon training; so the focus was at the platoon level, but we also trained at the battalion level, and some of this is even integrated into our National Guard Brigade Headquarters," said Escandon.
The exercise was held in Michigan with the National Guard to give them an opportunity to work with active duty infantry to better hone their skills in as a FA unit, as well as to allow 1-87 to be more familiar with working with a FA unit.
"Our guys learned stuff from the National Guard guys, who have tons of experience and are subject matter experts in their areas, and they learned stuff from us as far as tactics while living in the field," said Escandon.
Having the exercise at Camp Grayling gave 1-87IN a change of scenery and terrain, making them more versatile and proficient in different atmospheres.
"It was the first time we got to clear trenches, and I learned more how a platoon attack works, and hopefully after, I will have a better idea of how a company attack works," said Spc. John Chapman, an automatic rifleman with C Co., 1-87IN. "It was also our first time working with the National Guard, and artillery, and also gave us a different aspect of our mission, such as defending an artillery point."
After the successful completion of the culminating event, Soldiers went back to the cantonment area to prepare to redeploy back to Fort Drum.
"This opportunity is very rare for an organization, especially in this period of sequester, to be able to deploy itself independently to an off-site-training location and to leverage off of resources that are available," said Command Sgt. Maj. Phillip Simpao, senior enlisted advisor of 1-87IN.
"This has been a huge opportunity for 10th Mountain, 1-87 specifically, to capitalize on the training opportunities here, and I am personally really grateful for it, in the terms of Soldiers and their levels of focus. This is a true testament that Soldiers that have limited distractors, and are able to focus on true mission orders, or missions, that the commanders will have contingency plans, can really sharpen their skills and can become better in a very short period of time."