The Army follows the training philosophy of crawl, walk, run to develop highly competent infantrymen. The concept holds that before a complex and highly integrated training scenario is executed, it is broken down into highly specialized parts to be mastered before training on combined complex tasks.
First Brigade Combat Team conducted a culminating company-level combined arms live-fire exercise, known as Eagle Flight III, Sept. 25-28, following several weeks of honing individual, team, squad and platoon-level training.
The objective of Eagle Flight III was to validate each company on its ability to maneuver toward an objective and coordinate fires, with assets both within the company and from other elements, to breach an obstacle, attack key terrain, hold it and prepare for a counter-attack. The key terrain in the scenario was a complex trench.
Sergeant Hunter Kiser, a squad leader from C Company, Cold Steel, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st BCT, led the element to enter and clear the trench. "My team is the direct action assault squad," Kiser said. "We are the first ones in the trench to grab and secure a foothold, to clear it of all enemies, and provide more room for the follow-on forces to seize that key terrain."
Clearing a trench requires a high level of coordination and communication between teammates. Every corner must be effectively cleared to diminish the risk of friendly casualties.
"It's definitely a challenge to control eight other guys, especially in a trench, where you are controlling an element that is moving forward, as well as trying to send situation reports back through the trench; back to your platoon leader; back to your platoon sergeant," Kiser said.
Getting to the trench required the efforts of numerous elements within the company as well as higher echelons and other units. Combined arms exercises such as Eagle Flight III, prepares companies to operate effectively on the battlefield. Col. Derek Thomson, 1st BCT commander, was on hand throughout the training, observing and assessing combat readiness of his companies and mission staff.
"This type of combined arms training is critical for our infantry formations," Thomson said. "We know that they will never go to war by themselves, and the more we can integrate other assets such as attack aviation, artillery, and engineers, the more prepared we will be."
Among the elements with whom the company commander coordinated for support were 2nd Bn., 32nd Field Artillery Regt., Division Artillery, who provided a platoon of 105mm howitzers; 1st Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, who provided two AH-64 Apache helicopters; and 426th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st BCT who provided transportation, ammo and logistics support.
Although companies were the primary training audience, the exercise provided training opportunities for the supporting units as well as battalion and brigade mission command staff.
"Supporting this training event, we treat it as an operation, applicable both in combat and training, that requires synchronization and planning," said Maj. Max Ferguson, 1st BCT operations officer. "One of the secondary training objectives after training the company is the mission command aspect of it."
Ferguson said it is important to put stress on the battalion and brigade tactical command posts, who are responsible for clearance of fires, battle tracking and feeding reports up and down the chain.
"The battalion and brigade staffs are getting multiple reps for each iteration to help maximize the training value for not just the companies, but for the battalion and brigade mission command elements," he said.
Major Jack Irby, 1st BCT fire support officer, oversees the brigade's fires section, responsible for coordinating artillery and aviation assets.
"We integrate and incorporate fires such as artillery, mortars and attack aviation into the ground commander's overall scheme of maneuver in order to help the ground commander achieve his objectives," Irby said. "We provide the safe integration of those fire support assets, from company mortars through the battalion mortar systems, all the way up to the brigade's field artillery systems, as well as aerial platforms such as the Apaches. We make sure the commander has the opportunity to employ those assets and have that experience so that he will be better prepared when he goes to war."
The iterations demonstrate the effectiveness of combined arms, as well as the combat readiness of his company, said Capt. Brooks Beless, "Cold Steel" commander.
"The indirect fire elements and mounted gun trucks provided the suppression required for my infantry company to make it to the objective," Beless said. "The attached engineer squad provided a ballistic breaching solution to create a cleared lane to the trench for my company to accomplish our mission. The company's ability to maintain tempo and synchronize all firepower available was a significant factor in our success."
Brigades within the 101st Airborne Division conduct company-level combined arms exercises such as Eagle Flight III two to three times a year. Companies are selected to participate in the training based upon readiness assessments. Through realistic and challenging training such as this, the companies and mission command staff of 1st BCT continue to be highly trained and prepared for to fight and win when called upon.
"One of my expectations for this brigade is to cultivate grit as we prepare for combat in any condition or environment," Thomson said. "Over the past several weeks, the brigade has done just that through hard training, long movements, day and night training, and a mix of force-on-force and live fire exercises."