FORT POLK, La. -- A unique formation of Stryker combat vehicles joined the New York Army National Guard's infantry fight at the Joint Readiness Training Center, July 17.
The 19 M1126 Strykers, and the 165 Soldiers that man and maintain them, belong to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's Co. A, 1st Battalion, 112th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, based in Butler.
The troops are deployed with 3,000 New York Army National Guard Soldiers of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, along with another 2,000 Soldiers from other state Army National Guard units, active Army and Army Reserve troops.
The task force training will hone infantry skills and practice integrating combat operations ranging from infantry troops engaging in close combat with the enemy to artillery and air strikes.
"This is a unique opportunity for our company to exercise with a brigade element and we're eager to showcase what we have to bring to the fight," said Capt. Martin Wallenhorst, commander of Co. A, 1-112th SBCT from Cleveland, Ohio.
The Stryker combat vehicle is a 19-ton, eight-wheeled interim armored, or "light" armored, vehicle that brings heavier fighting capabilities to the battlefield to the infantry brigade.
The Stryker is the U.S. Army's SBCT primary combat and combat support platform. Significantly lighter and more transportable than existing tanks and armored vehicles, the Stryker provides combatant commanders with a strategically and operationally deployable brigade capable of rapid movement anywhere on the globe.
The company brings firepower, speed and maneuverability to the infantry brigade task force.
The Joint Training Center allows Army units to conduct combat training in a realistic environment that features a well-trained opposing force, civilian role-players on the battlefield, high-tech systems that monitor the action and observer-controllers to evaluate unit actions.
"Traditionally at a platoon and company level, we don't have the opportunity to maneuver with both mounted and dismounted troops together, so we are really testing our leaders at all levels during the JRTC rotation," said Wallenhorst.
According to Wallenhorst, there are two variations of the Stryker - an Infantry Carrier Vehicle and the Mobile Gun System. The Infantry, or troop carrier, has eight additional configurations: a Mortar Carrier, Reconnaissance Vehicle, Commanders Vehicle, Fire Support Vehicle, Medical Evacuation Vehicle, Engineer Squad Vehicle, Anti-tank Guided Missile Vehicle, and NBC Reconnaissance Vehicle.
"We have a full complement of vehicles with us which is normally at the battalion level, plus we have a JTAC or Joint Terminal Attack Controller, so we can call in close air support," Wallenhorst explained.
"This gives us the ability at company level to provide assets usually maintained at the battalion level so it's a lot of responsibility but a really unique experience for us," said Wallenhorst.
Even the mechanics are being tested round-the-clock and pushed to their limits.
"We wouldn't be where we are without our mechanics, they are doing a phenomenal job," said Staff Sgt. Adam McCormick, mortar squad leader for A Co. 1-112 SBCT.
That effort even includes replacing a vehicle engine when it became necessary.
"One of our Stryker's was blowing white smoke when it came off the railhead, so our mechanics worked well past midnight to get it running and definitely set us up for success. They make it possible for us to bring the heavy fight," McCormick exclaimed.
The second hiccup came when the unit arrived and found out that they needed a Gunner Restraint System in each vehicle to meet the training center's safety requirements.
Now installed in newer generation Strykers, the restraint system is a harness used to secure a gunner within the vehicle and still allow flexibility of movement.
According to Wallenhorst, the unit wouldn't be considered mission capable without the constraints. So, the unit's state headquarters and battalion worked it out, purchased them and sent three Soldiers, driving overnight in shifts, to bring the parts to Ft. Polk.
"Our six mechanics had them installed in 19 vehicles in less than four hours, which is a testament of the quick action, hard work and dedication of our mechanics," said Wallenhorst.
Only a handful of the standard compliment of 25-30 mechanics assigned to a Stryker company deployed with the unit for JRTC.
"The Stryker is a pretty awesome piece of equipment, there's nothing like it anywhere out there, it's quiet, fast and can go anywhere," said Staff Sgt. Leslie Schneider, the unit's Sr. Stryker mechanic for the exercise. "The only problem is if it isn't run hard regularly it breaks," she said.
Schneider is also the only female Soldier in the company team here for JRTC. Wallenhorst selected her to participate and support the maintenance team, even though she has only served in the job for five months.
According to Schneider, the vehicles are used primarily during the unit's annual training. While at home station they are run once a month to keep the hydraulic, transmission and engine oils from drying out.
"It's not unusual for us to change out an engine. At home with the right cranes and equipment we can do it in 15-minutes, here it took us a little over an hour," said Schneider.
"This a great learning experience for all of us, we're used to cross training because when you're in a Stryker Brigade - it doesn't matter what type of mechanic you are - you're a Stryker mechanic," Schneider enthused.
"Our biggest challenge is repair parts, so we bring them with us," explained Schneider.
The mechanics packed a shipping container filled with 17,000 pounds of replacement parts that included engines, alternators, air conditioners, batteries, belts, light bulbs and hydraulic, transmission and engine oils.
"None of the parts or fluids we use are standard; you can't just walk over to a maintenance shop or go off post and buy what you need, we have to be ready for anything," Scheider said.
"It's what we do to keep them moving and in the fight," Schneider added.