By Master Sgt. Jeff LowryAugust 7, 2017
FORT POLK, La. - Indiana National Guard soldiers with the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, nicknamed the Nighthawk Brigade, closed out their nearly month long training at the Joint Readiness Training Center.
Approximately 4,000 Hoosier Guardsmen with the brigade tested their combat skills over the course of 12 days in the field that covers approximately 90,000 acres and 14 villages at the central-Louisiana post.
"This exercise allowed us to see what worked for us and what didn't," said Col. Robert D. Burke, the 76th Brigade commander. "As an entire brigade with a lot of enablers, we did very, very well. I think there was a lot of both personal and professional growth throughout the organization that people can take forward and learn from and use that experience to make themselves better no matter what organization they're with."
The Citizen-Soliders conducted decisive-action training to develop adaptive leaders, confident units and improve Army readiness. The combat skills included reconnoitering and attacking the enemy, and occupying and defending battle space.
The soldiers trained as they would have to fight in overseas contingencies, and the training here also enhanced their team-building skills.
"I think, really, it's to build that team," said Burke in an interview before the training battles started. "To build those relationships, bring together all of those components of putting together an effective, reliable combat team that can accomplish whatever mission we're given in support of combat operations."
That team building included integrating enablers, approximately 2,000 troops from more than 20 states.
Those enablers included Army aviation assets, with attack and lift capabilities, from North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Colorado that took part in the battle scenarios. Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers with a Stryker - an eight-wheeled, armored personnel carrier - unit also participated.
"I think that was absolutely a key," said Burke of the Stryker and aviation elements. "The Strykers and aviation are something that we're not use to working with, and they specifically did a great job for us."
The rotation here will help in future endeavors too, including Pacific Pathways, a multinational, show-of-force exercise, scheduled for 2018.
"Our whole movement plan and how we managed our equipment here and back, will actually help us setup the conditions for us to do very well in the Pacific," said Burke. "This whole exercise has helped prepare us very well for any type of operation that we maybe called upon as a brigade going forward from here. And we will be ready if Big Army needs us."
In addition to the training in the field, the brigade's higher headquarters personnel with the 38th Infantry Division conducted collective and mission-command training that will enable them to have oversight of subordinate units.
"This kind of training, while we are not part of the rotation, gets us ready in collective training," said Maj. Gen. David C. Wood, the 38th Infantry Division's commander. "With limited training days and with limited training dollars, we need this collective training on the battle systems."
Practice makes proficient, and Wood said that repetitive training on the computerized systems that manage and communicate with subordinate commands will be key in possible future deployments.
During the brigade's rotation, the Adjutant General of the Indiana National Guard, Maj. Gen. Courtney P. Carr, visited Hoosier Guardsmen with the division and the brigade, and he saw firsthand his troops training in action.
"What's changed is that our mission-command systems and weapon systems are more sophisticated now," said Carr of the training now compared to 17 years ago when he was here with the 76th. "We rely on a digital environment and cyber weapons systems."
Other Hoosier Guardsmen with the 38th Sustainment Brigade assisted with and took part in the training. They provided logistical coordination from processing the Nighthawks into and out of Fort Polk, and keeping them supplied with life-sustaining materiel.
As Burke noted, the training for JRTC also included shipping equipment as if the Nighthawks were heading into combat. That included transporting Humvees, trucks, howitzers and trailers from Camp Atterbury, Indiana to Louisiana.
"We have soldiers here from the Indiana, Pennsylvania and Illinois National Guard loading more than 800 vehicles on rail cars," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jim Hunt, the Indiana National Guard state mobilization officer, when shipping out the vehicles.
The logistics officer with the 76th agreed when receiving the vehicles at Fort Polk.
"It is amazing that we did it in four days with a small team. We had great support from Task Force Hoosier," said Maj. Bill Ward. Task Force Hoosier was an Indiana-based contingency that helped move the Nighthawks south and receive them when they come back.
And now that combat training at Fort Polk is over, the equipment and the Nighthawks are goin' back to Indiana, back where they are from.