By Staff Sgt. Leah KilpatrickAugust 25, 2017
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait -- The rumble of M2A3 Bradley Fighting vehicle tracks and the roar of M1A2 Abrams Main Battle tank engines created a soundtrack that could be heard for miles across the vast desert of the Udairi Range Complex in Camp Buehring, Kuwait.
The three combined arms battalions of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team "Greywolf," 1st Cavalry Division conducted company-level situational training exercises here during the months of July and August.
"It was to validate us through our mission essential tasks as a tank company to show that we are ready," said Capt. John Pelham, commander of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team. "If we had not deployed yet, it would validate us to deploy. Since we are currently deployed, it's recertifying that validation. It's like the final exam for a company."
"Conducting gunnery and then STX was really helpful, because gunnery is more focused on the basics," said 1st Lt. David Cunningham, infantry platoon leader, 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team. "It's certifying the crews of the individual Bradleys, and then the sections, and then the platoons to see if they could actually talk to each other as a platoon, coordinate fires, and maneuver on an objective."
Evaluators put the mechanized infantry and armored companies through their paces of conducting such tasks as movement to contact, establishing an area defense, and conducting an attack.
It all began with the company's receipt of the mission. The commanders gathered their subordinate leaders and developed the plan to execute the mission, briefed the mission, and conducted rehearsal of concept drills -- also known as ROC drills.
Pelham, who led his company through the STX and also served as an evaluator for other companies, said he took a lot of value from incorporating many of his subordinate leaders into the planning process.
"Because there's a finite amount of time, if left to his own devices, [the commander] can't think of everything by himself," said Pelham, a native of Soddy Daisy, Tennessee. "But if he brings more people onboard, especially with everyone seeing the problem a different way, the better equipped that unit is going to be to accomplish its mission."
With the opposing forces lying in wait, played by Soldiers from sister companies, the training unit moved out to the first objective while conducting movement to contact. Upon reaching their objective, the company reacted to contact and then established security in anticipation of the next task -- conduct an area defense.
"This was the first time since we've been over here that we were able to stress all of our systems and see where our weaknesses were, what was already strong and see if it was still strong," said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Lawson, infantry platoon sergeant, 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team. "And then we learned some things that surprised a few of us when they worked out well. And some other things we discovered we're going to have to work on if we're going to be able to meet the intent next time we have to do this."
While the training was designed to be tough and realistic, it was made all the more difficult by the weather. Temperatures topped 124 degrees, and units took care to rotate the Soldiers pulling security, conducting maintenance, and other tactical assembly area tasks into cooling tents to ensure the training was executed to standard but also safely.
"A lot of mission sets were executed at night and in the early morning to mitigate the heat and the Soldiers' exposure thereto, and then during the daytime in order to stay in a tactical mindset and not go completely administrative, we continued to do all the priorities of work that are necessary to secure a tactical assembly area," Pelham said. "We continued providing security from the tanks, but we did it in such a way that Soldiers could rotate from pulling security or whatever priorities of work they were doing to a cooling tent that we had set up."
"Being able to overcome the elements in probably one of the most difficult of environments with 120 degree heat," said Capt. Ross Mitchell, commander of Bravo Company 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team. "I think that helped build a lot of cohesion, because the Soldiers went through something that was tough together, but they also found that we have ways to mitigate those risks associated with that terrain and build confidence that we can execute operations in any environment."
Meanwhile, the company leadership began planning for their next mission in anticipation of the opposing forces' attack on their tactical assembly area. With the tanks and Bradleys equipped with Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement Systems and armed with blanks, the companies took on the opposing forces.
"I think what was really the most profound thing that I saw when evaluating another unit was watching another unit come to the realization of what it takes to sustain a mechanized force over such a long distance," Pelham said.
During all of this, the forward support companies were busy fueling vehicles; conducting maintenance; and providing food, water and ice. According to 215th Brigade Support Battalion Operations Officer, Capt. Hilary Genevish, the companies consumed more than 49,000 gallons of fuel, more than 3,000 gallons of water, and more than 800 bags of ice.
Pelham said he watched units get better and better at planning for not only the need for that sustainment, but also the distance that had to be travelled for those resources to make it out to them, because they had experienced it.
"You can't fabricate experience," Pelham said. "You can't fabricate this type of terrain or this type of climate. It's one of the more unforgiving regions of the world, one of the hottest regions of the world. You just can't simulate that. You've got to go out and see it and feel it for yourself to really get an appreciation for what it takes to fight and win here."
And fight and win is exactly what the units were ready to do as they approached their final task.
In the early morning hours of day three, the engines roared to life again.
The Soldiers donned their personal protective equipment, mounted their vehicles, and proceeded to their next objective. The crews engaged the opposition forces, all while effectively shooting, moving and communicating.
"It's been preached to me that your training is supposed to be harder than your actual mission," said Lawson, a Valparaiso, Indiana, native. "I've been to Iraq three times and Afghanistan once, so I remember heat, but I don't remember heat like it is now.
"But just being able to know that we can get the vehicles to do what they're designed to do in 120 degree heat while wearing all of our stuff, it puts something in the back of your mind that yes, I can do this if I need to later on, and it's only 90 degrees outside," he added.
"In the simplest terms possible, this training directly feeds into sustained readiness," Pelham said. "We went through these exercises to certify us to deploy, and we continue to do the train up and execute these exercises again to recertify and recertify, so that we always stay at that peak readiness level, and that's exactly what this does."