Over the course of 14 blazing hot days in the California desert, the Soldiers of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, battled exhaustion, pain and a world-class opposition force during their train up for future operations.
Held from the end of July into mid-August, the "Devil" brigade's training at Fort Irwin, California's National Training Center focused on a wide range of unified land operations in a new environment away from the comfort of their home station.
"A lot of time when you're building capacity in your unit, you're learning this piece or that piece, but going to the National Training Center allows you to tie everything back together," said Maj. Jared Nichols, executive officer of 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st ABCT. "Plus, because you're so focused and away from Fort Riley, you get everybody to really focus on their job and how to tie that in with everyone else, building an effective team that can fight and win."
The main body of more than 4,000 Soldiers, not including enablers and those who arrived with the advanced party, began arriving at NTC's rotational unit bivouac area, or RUBA, over the course of a few days and almost immediately started to prepare their equipment and vehicles for the fight to come.
For more than a week, the Soldiers battled daily high temperatures reaching the high 100s at the RUBA during the reception, staging, onward movement and integration, or RSOI, stage of the rotation prior to moving out to the training area. Once in "the box," the Soldiers confronted the opposition force, or OpFor, from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment by way of a sophisticated laser tag system called multiple integrated laser engagement system, or MILES.
Their first encounter against the OpFor would come during the movement to contact portion of the training. Over the next two weeks, the brigade would be tested on a multitude of full-spectrum operations.
"The first time you fight against the OpFor is a daunting experience," Nichols said. "You're fighting an enemy that knows the terrain and knows how American forces fight, so they know how to fight against us and they do it very well."
The OpFor from the 11th ACR are seasoned Soldiers at NTC. They have the experience of fighting multiple armored and heavy brigades over and over again, giving them a serious advantage over the rotational units they go up against.
"It's pretty much like being on the highest difficulty level you can think of," Nichols added. "We took our bruises and our lumps here and there, but we were able to learn from it."
Nichols explained that the training at NTC is designed to be as hard as possible so that when Soldiers engage in real combat it should be, in theory, a little easier than fighting the OpFor at NTC.
While in the box, the Soldiers honed their skills in force-on-force battle, surviving chemical attacks, evacuating civilians from danger areas, working with local key leaders and continuously moving and re-establishing command posts as the battalions moved farther and farther into the battlefield, to name a few.
"The overall performance of the Soldiers at NTC was nothing short of incredible," Col. Timothy Hayden, the brigade's commander, said. "I think the attitude of all Soldiers was really the most impressive thing to watch as they got better every day, as they mastered their craft and then how to improve their ability to contribute to the greater team to be successful on the modern battlefield."
During the intense training the brigade incorporated the skills and experience of special enablers in order to help ensure victory over the OpFor.
The enablers, which included specialists from cyber warfare, civil affairs, electronic warfare and psychological operations, were able to conduct a multitude of operations that included defending the brigade's valuable computer network, conducting civilian populous influencing operations and including civilian considerations into battle planning.
"The big part of the enablers is to enable the brigade to fight its best fight on all realms of the battlefield," said Capt. Kelly Buckner, the brigade's civil affairs officer. "When you bring all of these capabilities to the table, you can really enable the maneuver forces the ability fight free of all the things on the battlefield that can inhibit the brigade from fighting its best fight."
Following each training phase, observer controller teams met with leaders from across the brigade to provide critique and feedback on their performance, allowing the organization to learn and grow from their experience.
The training culminated with a three-day combined live fire exercise where the entire brigade conducted a thoroughly planned, simultaneous combat operation using live rounds.
Each of the brigade's seven battalions brought the full force of their arsenal to bare on the more than 642,000 acre training area, bringing together everything they learned during the final phase.
Once they completed the live-fire exercise, the Soldiers made their way back to the RUBA where they prepared their equipment and vehicles to be shipped back to Fort Riley before boarding busses and returning home better prepared to meet any future challenges they may face.