By Staff Sgt. Patrick LochJuly 5, 2016
FORT IRWIN, Calif. -- With the majority of the Soldiers from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, having already returned home - and each Soldier set to have returned by July 3 - the brigade is closing the book on National Training Center rotation 16-07 and looking forward to its ready year in 2017.
"The training the brigade received and conducted was among the hardest and most realistic that the U.S. Army offers," said Col. Robert Intress, commander of the 1/34th ABCT. "I am incredibly proud of our performance ... we have been extremely successful and safe!"
In addition to the nearly two years of planning and training leading up to the rotation, the brigade's mission at NTC consisted of four phases: logistics involving the movement of 1,500 pieces of equipment and 6,000 Soldiers to Fort Irwin, California; Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration; force-on-force field exercise; and regeneration.
Logistical execution began in early May, several weeks before the bulk of Soldiers from the 1/34th ABCT and supporting units were set to arrive. Soldiers with the 347th Regional Support Group first loaded and secured more than 300 wheeled vehicles, 350 tracked vehicles and 1,400 containers onto 500 railcars at the Camp Ripley railhead. A few days later, these items arrived at the Yermo Railhead Annex at Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, California. Once the equipment was downloaded, Soldiers began convoy operations down the Mannex Trail, a 30-mile trek through the Mojave Desert bridging the final leg of the journey to Fort Irwin.
"We've been preparing for this incredibly complex movement plan since we were notified of our rotation nearly two years ago," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Mellon, brigade mobility officer for the 1/34th ABCT. "We've invested countless hours, and enlisted the support of hundreds of Service members, to accomplish this feat."
The second phase began in early June, when nearly 6,000 Soldiers from 18 states arrived at the Rotational Unit Bivouac Area on Fort Irwin. Arriving in stages, 350 chartered bus movements and 90 flights brought Soldiers from muster formations across the nation.
The five-day RSOI period - a period of time that was "contested" by the opposition force and included a protest at the gate, mock media engagements and several other battle drills - was the time to prepare section equipment and vehicles for the 14-day field exercise in the "The Box." Soldiers were consumed with the drawing of additional vehicles from the Fort Irwin motor pool, the installation of Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement Systems, unloading of shipping containers, packing individual and section equipment and conducting various live-fire training events.
All the while, the brigade was supported by the 347th RSG, which acted as the "White Cell." Everything from scanning Soldier's ID cards to hauling away trash, Soldiers of the 347th RSG maintained a high quality of life for Soldiers inhabiting this "mini city" that sprung up in a few short days. In addition to providing two hot meals per day during the RSOI phase, the 347th RSG received and escorted the many distinguished visitors that visited to witness the brigade's training - representatives that included Gen. Robert Abrams, commanding general of U.S. Army Force Command, and Representative Tim Walz.
Finally, on Day 4 of RSOI, battalions began rolling out of RUBA and into the vast expanse of Mojave Desert known as "The Box" - a hostile training area the size of Rhode Island that includes mountainous terrain and 110 degree heat. By "uncoiling" company- and battalion-sized elements out of RUBA in a process that took nearly 36 hours, hundreds of vehicles from dozens of units were able to tactically convoy into "Atropia," the mock country in which the training scenario was to take place.
In the scenario, Atropia, a U.S. ally, was on the verge of war with separatist factions wreaking havoc in the region and the "Donovian" hostile invaders amassing on the northern border - both groups were played by the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, a regiment dedicated to contesting brigades that enter "The Box."
"The movement means the Brigade will be headed into an unfamiliar area where the opposition force has the distinct advantage of knowing the terrain very well and have had a chance to be acclimated to the heat," said Spc. Travis Pugh, a dismounted Infantryman for the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armored Regiment. "We are entering their playground, so we have to be on our toes at all times and never get complacent."
Upon entering "The Box," Soldiers were thrown into a combat scenario and 24-hour operations began. Each of the battalions were under constant threat of attack - artillery, mortars, chemical agents, IEDs and of course direct opposition by the role-playing separatist and Donovian forces. Brigade and battalion staffs were furiously writing up plans to clear mock cities, provide security and engage the enemy. And while maneuver battalions were executing the plans, civil affairs teams were sent out to coordinate with key leaders from the Atropian government and role-playing non-governmental organizations. Two brigade support battalions distributed fuel, water, food and occasionally fresh fruit to keep the fight going.
Every function found in an armored combat brigade - engineering, infantry, sustainment, armor, artillery, cavalry, legal, personnel - was utilized.
And finally, after two weeks practicing field hygiene, experiencing sleep deprivation, sleeping on the ground, in trailers, or wherever a soft spot could be found, the brigade began its movement back to RUBA.
"Although we experienced heat up to 116 degrees and 50 miles per hour winds while drinking 100 degree water, eating nothing but MREs and not showering for more than 14 days, the motivation, excitement and willingness to improve every day makes me humble and proud," said Intress. "Before we arrived I said that NTC will test your character - and we all passed that test."
In phase four, dubbed regeneration, Soldiers once again began the nearly unprecedented logistical operation of transporting personnel and equipment out of Fort Irwin and back to home station. Gear was repacked, and railcars reloaded. Upon receipt of items back home, maintenance teams will be working to ensure all equipment is once again at peak operation - necessary to match Soldier readiness and equipment capability as the 1/34th ABCT enters its "ready" year in 2017.
To utilize the elite training and readiness of the 1/34th ABCT in 2017, the U.S. Army has tagged the brigade for two major training exercises in Europe - Saber Strike 17 and Immediate Response 17.
"I want to give a special thank you to all the families, employers, educators, Yellow Ribbon Networks and Yellow Ribbon Companies that support our great Soldiers of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team," said Intress. "Without your support, we could not do any of this! You all have my admiration and thanks."