By Eric Durr, New York National GuardApril 20, 2018
UTICA, N.Y. - Three hundred and sixty New York Army National Guard Soldiers based in Geneseo, Lockport, Ithaca, Ogdensburg and Gloversville will be heading for one of the Army's two premier training facilities at Fort Polk, Louisiana on May 2.
The Soldiers from two companies of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry and Alpha Company of the 27th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, will train for three weeks at the Army's Joint Readiness Training Center, known as JRTC.
The units are part of the New York Army National Guard's 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team which have elements located across the state. The 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry is headquartered in Utica.
JRTC pits Army infantry brigade combat teams against and opposing force in massive force-on-force training exercises in a simulated combat environment where everything they do can be recorded and analyzed.
The New York Army National Guard troops will be acting as the opposing enemy force, known as the OPFOR, as about 5,000 Soldiers of the Georgia Army National Guard 48th Brigade Combat Team go through a three- week training rotation at JRTC.
The 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which is headquartered in Syracuse, went through a similar training mission in the summer of 2016.
Acting as the OPFOR is a great experience for the battalion's junior leaders, according to Lt. Col. Jeff Csoka, the commander of the 2nd Battalion 108th Infantry.
"These missions enable young platoon leaders and platoon sergeants to gain valuable experience maneuvering their platoons," he said. "It also gives company commanders a benchmark to see how well trained their squad and platoon leaders are when acting against an aggressive, determined opponent."
The battalion has been emphasizing individual, and squad level skills, for the last two years, so he thinks his soldiers will do well, Csoka added.
"We may lack experience in certain positions due to turnover, but we are sending down Soldiers who are aggressive, motivated and learn quickly," said Csoka.
JRTC uses a laser engagement system, an advanced version of laser-tag, to allow individual Soldiers and vehicles to engage others on the simulated battlefield. On the ground observers and high tech recording systems keep track of actions so that Soldiers and commanders can review their actions after each engagement.
Soldiers participating in the training conduct the same sorts of logistics operations they would conduct in wartime and even learn to deal with civilians living in towns on the battlefield.
The New York Army National Guard Soldiers will be acting as either guerrilla forces or conventional infantry attacking and defending against the Georgia Soldiers depending on the training scenario.
About 80 percent of the Soldiers participating in the training this year went through the brigade JRTC rotation in 2016.
"Participating as the opposing force will give these Soldiers a different view of what happens on the battlefield as well as giving them the opportunity to enhance their training on small unit tactics", explained Capt. Patrick Halpin, the assistant operations officer for the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry.
The battalion will be sending its Alpha Company, headquartered in Geneseo; and Charlie Company, headquartered in Gloversville; on the mission. Soldiers from other units located in Ogdensburg and Ithaca will round out those infantry companies.
Some of the platoons will struggle initially, but he expects to see steady improvement over the course of the three-week mission, Csoka mentioned.
"As OPFOR the biggest challenge will be the short mission planning cycle that our platoons have," he said. "This will test our junior leaders' ability to quickly develop communication, rehearse and executive tactical operations."
Alpha Company of the 27th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, is a combat engineer company headquartered in Lockport. Combat engineers specialize in emplacing and clearing minefields, constructing and clearing battlefield obstacles, blowing bridges, cratering roads, and assisting units in constructing field fortifications.
The Soldiers will leave for Louisiana from Hancock Field Air National Guard Base on May 2.
The New York Army National Guard's 145th Maintenance Company, based on Staten Island, is also sending Soldiers to the Joint Readiness Training Center.