FORT POLK, La. -- Nearly 700 Soldiers from the Massachusetts Army National Guard are being put to the test here at the Joint Readiness Training Center, or JRTC, July 9-30, 2016."This is truly realistic training and the lessons they learn here will only make our Soldiers better," said Massachusetts Air National Guard Maj. Gen. Gary Keefe, the Massachusetts National Guard Adjutant General."When I see a company commander and his 1st Sgt. wearing uniforms that are filthy and in shreds and their Soldiers are just as tattered, it tells me they are getting serious realistic training," Keefe enthused.The Soldiers are conducting combat training against 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.The Massachusetts troops joined over 3,000 Soldiers of New York's 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and another 1,000 Soldiers from other state Army National Guard units, active Army and Army Reserve troops.Keefe talked to Soldiers and leaders from the 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry headquartered in Melrose with companies in Ayer, Braintree, Middleboro, and Dorchester Mass., the 387th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Co. based at Camp Edwards, Cape Cod, the 272nd Chemical Co. from Reading and the 1182nd Forward Support Battalion based in Dorchester during a visit to Ft. Polk, La., July 20, 2016."JRTC develops smarter, better Soldiers," said Command Sgt. Major Carlos Ramos Rivera, Massachusetts Army National Guard State Command Sgt. Major and senior enlisted advisor. "The training is intended to be challenging - the better the unit, the harder the fight."The training support personnel, opposing forces and evaluators moderate the fight based on the level of the unit. If the unit is hitting the mark on each objective, then they ratchet it up and it gets tougher. If the unit is weaker in an area, they slow it down to give the unit time to figure it out, make the right decisions and correct their actions - then they ratchet it up some more, Ramos Rivera explained."Bottom line - if our Soldiers and leaders are better coming out of this, than I call that a huge success," said Ramos Rivera."This exercise is challenging but especially beneficial for our young Soldiers because it gives them a first-hand look at the complexity involved in deploying and sustaining a force, but also how the decisions that are made impact everything they do," said 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Command Sgt. Major Gary Comeau.The training is designed to hone their infantry skills and practice integrating combat operations, ranging from infantry troops engaging in close combat with the enemy to artillery fire and aviation integration."Our Soldiers are really impressed with what they see and are blown away with all the infantry support we have in the fight," Comeau said."Having tanks, Strykers, Ravens and close air support from Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters all in one location is not something you normally see outside of a deployment," Comeau explained."These Soldiers are pushing way past their comfort zone which makes for a great learning experience," Comeau said."This is a great opportunity to be challenged - the pace here just keeps moving," said Spec. Yasmine Estrella, a signal specialist assigned to Headquarters Co., 272nd Chemical Co., based in Reading, Mass.The 272nd Chemical Co. brings Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) Reconnaissance and Decontamination Operations as well as smoke operations to the exercise."With more than two weeks in the field there is no time to unwind before you're back on mission," Estrella explained. "You are really testing yourself as a Soldier and as a company - but also personally," she said."You're constantly finding the balance between taking care of yourself, each other and getting the mission done. This is so important because it teaches you to prioritize the needs of Soldiers and the needs of the company in order to complete the mission," Estrella exclaimed.Estrella transfers to the 101st Field Artillery Regiment based in Brockton, Mass. later this year. Nicknamed the Boston Light Artillery, Estrella will be the first female enlisted Soldier to serve in the oldest field artillery regiment in the United State Army."I am extremely proud of what our Soldiers are accomplishing here, but even more impressed with their attitude and moral, especially since they are dealing with lack of sleep, austere living conditions while engaged in fighting opposing forces and doing it all in such high heat and humidity. They are really getting a lot out of this training," Keefe said.