By Sgt. Praxedis Pineda, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachement, Texas Army National GuardApril 14, 2016
HOHENFELS, Germany -- Truck engines roar as military drivers gear-up for a night convoy. The sun hides under the horizon as a lone platoon leader assembles her troops for a final safety check. Spc. Diego Guerra, a truck driver with A Company, 173rd Brigade Support Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade, fastens himself into the gunner position and prepares to rollout.
Soldiers with the U.S. Army Europe's 173rd Airborne conducted a nighttime operation as part of exercise Saber Junction 16 at the Hohenfels Training Area, April 8, 2016. The exercise evaluates the brigade's ability to conduct land operations in a multinational environment.
"We get to train with our allies and have some fun with OPFOR [opposition forces]," said Guerra, while putting on his protective mask. "We'll see what kind of things they throw out there. We're just going to have to react to it."
The unit moves in complete darkness using only their night-vision goggles to see. Everything seems calm on the road, but suddenly an explosion stops the convoy. Enemy forces attack using roadside bombs, resulting in several casualties and a disabled vehicle.
"The first gun truck took an IED [improvised explosive device]," said Sgt. 1st Class George Harrell, a transportation observer coach trainer, as he evaluated the exercises from the sideline. "They've got good front and rear security, and the wrecker guys have a solid plan to recover the truck out of the ditch."
Seasoned Soldiers are able to quickly draw from their experience and training during the exercise, but for younger Soldiers, responding to surprises may not be so intuitive.
Guerra is the youngest member of the company, but doesn't cease to impress his unit.
"Spc. Guerra is kinda the joker of the platoon, but he's also one of the most driven," said convoy commander 2nd Lt. Heather Vague. "You'll give him a task and he'll go above and beyond."
Minutes after the attack, Guerra's truck moves to a defensive position allowing the team to safely recover their truck. He scans the vast darkness for signs of danger while holding a radio in one hand and the grip to his 50-caliber machine gun in the other.
"It's better to make a mistake here in training than out there in the real world," said Guerra. "If you get a real world casualty you'll know what to do."
As Guerra watches for enemy troops, medics cautiously move toward the truck to rescue the wounded team members. The convoy continues to take indirect fire, but manages to recover the injured Soldiers without suffering more casualties.
"So far they're doing real good," said Harrell. "They got the casualties out in a timely manner. It's looking like they can handle a real world scenario."
The wrecker team pulls out the disabled truck and the unit finally continues with their mission.
The realism and scale of this exercise is proof why this combat training center is so unique.
"It's hard to predict anything on the STX lanes. We get extremes on both sides," said Vague. "I think it's by far one of the best training areas we have in the world."
The 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Center continues to provide a variety of training solutions to meet any unit's objectives.
"Every training that we have here is different; different scenarios and different training," said Guerra. "Every time you come here you learn something new."