GUNPOWDER RANGE, Maryland -- Soldiers patrol the foggy tree line, paying attention to every detail, every movement and every sound.
The Soldiers stay alert, knowing that the enemy and his booby traps could be anywhere in the damp and hilly forest.
Taking on a determined foe on his own terrain is hard enough, but these Soldiers also have the unique and dangerous mission of combating chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) threats.
During this mission, the enemy is the training cadre from the 20th CBRNE Command and the Soldiers are students in the first ever CBRNE Leaders Course.
Soldiers from 20th CBRNE Command, the U.S. Army's only formation that combats global CBRNE threats, took on mock enemy forces and CBRNE threats during the inaugural course March 24 - April 2.
U.S. Army Chemical Corps troops, Nuclear Specialists and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Soldiers from across the United States converged on this appropriately named Maryland National Guard post to master their life-saving and mission-enabling skills.
Master Sgt. John Stricklett, the 20th CBRNE Command G-37 training noncommissioned officer in charge, said the inaugural course was the result of three months of planning at the 20th CBRNE Command Headquarters on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
"An institutional course of this magnitude would typically take 12 to 18 months to plan and execute," said Stricklett, who coordinated the first iteration of the course. "We were able to execute this in a much shorter timeframe."
Stricklett said the course included training to better enable CBRNE units to fully integrate with maneuver units.
"The training events were selected based on lessons from [Combat Training Center] rotations, as well as the 20th CBRNE Command's mission," said Stricklett, an Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician from Westville, Illinois, who deployed to Iraq six times.
The 20th CBRNE Command's senior enlisted leader said the course was designed to develop the leaders who most directly influence Soldiers on the battlefield.
"These leaders were chosen due to their high level of motivation, proven tactical and technical competence and immeasurable desire to become better leaders in ensuring the accomplishment of the mission and welfare of their Soldiers," said Command Sgt. Maj. Harold E. Dunn IV, the 20th CBRNE Command's senior enlisted leader.
The course was taught by a training cadre with decades of combined combat experience, Dunn said. These trainers included Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians, Chemical Corps troops, Army Rangers and Nuclear Specialists.
In addition to classroom training, the students completed a physical readiness test and obstacle course while wearing chemical suits and gas masks. A two-mile run and six-mile forced march, as well as day and night land navigation and rappelling, were also part of the curriculum.
The course wrapped up with three days of continuous training missions where the Soldiers responded to a wide variety of challenging scenarios.
Dunn said the course pushed the students to their limit and forced them work together as a team.
"The focus of this course is to build expeditionary-minded CBRNE leaders who can shoot, move, communicate, operate, integrate and sustain CBRNE operations," said Dunn, a Fredericksburg, Virginia native. "This course is designed to expose EOD and CBRN leaders to the common mission space and core competencies they share."
Dunn said 20th CBRNE Command is planning to conduct the CBRNE Leaders Course quarterly and will eventually offer it to Soldiers in all occupational specialties, as well as joint and allied troops.
The command sergeant major called the inaugural training course demanding and effective.
"Our young leaders are better and know how hard and fast they can go if required to accomplish their assigned missions," said Dunn.
Brig. Gen. JB Burton, the commanding general of 20th CBRNE Command, said his Soldiers excelled during the inaugural course.
The 20th CBRNE commanding general said his one-of-a-kind command relies on trained and ready CBRNE teams to accomplish its high-stakes mission.
"This course was designed to build CBRNE teams that can move with authority in and out of contact, can operate with confidence within an operational environment complicated by CBRNE hazards and can rapidly and effectively integrate with other forces to deliver the expertise that only CBRNE warriors can deliver," said Burton, a native of Tullahoma, Tennessee.