FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. -- As the 368th Engineer Battalion out of Londonderry, New Hampshire prepares to deploy next year, the unit had an opportunity to train with downtrace companies during the Combat Support Training Exercise 78-16-01 at Fort Hunter Liggett, California, Feb. 27 to March 18.
This situation is unique.
"In the three deployments that I've had we haven't had an opportunity like this where we get to go out and work together and not only as a company, but also with other sister companies that we're deploying with," said Staff Sgt. Adam Paulsen, squad leader, 389th Eng. Company (Vertical). "I just think it's an incredible opportunity and experience to go and have this opportunity to see what it's going to be like working together."
The companies working with the 368th include the 368th Eng. Bn. Headquarters and Headquarters Company and Forward Support Company, as well as the 389th Engineer Company (Vertical), the 475th Engineer Company (Horizontal) and the 650th Survey and Design Team.
"The horizontal and vertical companies and the survey and design team that are also working with us this time -- it's our first time with them, they're not within the battalion," said Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen Bodwell, senior enlisted advisor, 368th Eng. Bn. "We had some apprehensions prior to coming here because we hadn't met them, but a week and a half into the exercise and they're doing a phenomenal job. So this has given us a good opportunity to assess their leadership, their Soldiers and their Soldiers' skills. We've been very happy with the result."
By working together before mobilization and deployment, the units are able to build their team and learn to work together.
Capt. David Jacobs, commander, 389th Eng. Company (Vertical), from Coal Valley, Illinois, felt everyone had been working and meshing together fairly well.
"It's been new relationships with everyone so it takes a little bit of growing pains, but honestly I don't think there's any personal issues or anything that's come up," said Jacobs. "That's going to make a difference."
Having the units train together also creates an acquaintance with Soldiers throughout the units.
"I think it's great because you start seeing familiar faces and names so you start creating these relationships and to establish that relationship before even going overseas I think is an incredible opportunity," said Paulsen, a Burnsville, Minnesota, native. "When we are downrange and we need to rely on some help, some assistance, it's not like we're just going to this random person with this random name. The names are all going to be familiar and it's really encouraging knowing that we're falling under a battalion we're training with now."
This teamwork isn't being built in a vacuum. It will continue to be important as the units prepare for their deployment.
"The highlight is probably the result of these external units all coming together and creating a cohesive team and not just for this exercise, but for the entire mobilization," said Bodwell, from Northbridge, Massachusetts. "This has been a great foundation for that."
The teamwork built will continue to grow as the Soldiers spend more time together.
"I think one thing about an exercise like this, typically as a Reservist, you only spend a couple days a month with your peers, probably two to three weeks at some kind of exercise … but as you go forward and go into larger and longer stints, that's when you see people start to build relationships and come together as a team," said Bodwell. "There are always personality conflicts, but once you get through that everybody is experiencing the same thing together and that's the kind of bond that just can't be broken. That's one of the things I love about being a Soldier, we develop bonds that other people will never experience or see."
The exercise allowed Soldiers to develop bonds and hone skills, which are not the only benefits, but it is also preparing Soldiers to deploy.
"It gives the leadership and all the Soldiers getting ready for this deployment a really good glimpse of what to expect when they get over there. Things they may need to brush up on or sharpen in on or things they may have forgotten will be brought to light during this exercise," said 1st Sgt. Kenneth Turner, first sergeant, HHC, 368th Eng. Bn. and Boaz, Alabama, native. "It will put them in the mindset they need to be in and it will set a thought process for them to go by when they do deploy so that when we get overseas we can do our mission not just to standard, but successfully and hopefully exceeding the standard a little bit."
Bodwell said the exercise helps identify and assess any shortfalls or leadership skills before they get overseas.
"Odds are they're going to be plucked in small teams, maybe a platoon-sized element and were having to send them over the horizon," said Bodwell.
Bodwell said he felt a commitment to make sure the leadership is strong and the Soldiers are trained and skilled enough to finish the mission and represent the United States and the United States Army in a positive way.
"I hope that the Soldiers take away some good training because right now we're in a training environment, this is a field exercise," said Bodwell. "This is where we want them to start learning, this is where we want them to make their mistakes, this is what we want them to ultimately take away from this exercise when we go downrange: they're skilled."
These units will begin mobilization in the summer and deploy together, as a team, early next year.