FORT POLK, La. - More than 4,500 Georgia Army National Guardsmen from throughout the peach state converged on the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) located in Fort Polk, La. during the month of May to conduct rotation 18-07, the first of two Army National Guard JRTC rotations this calendar year, and the first brigade-sized rotation for Ga. ARNG since 2009.

As the Army National Guard focuses on increased individual and collective training through the ARNG 4.0 readiness concept, the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered in Macon, Ga. led the charge into the training area known as "The box" to conduct full spectrum progressions of their combat capabilities. These evolutions are needed to certify the organization for near-term deployment requirements.

"It's important for our unit to take advantage of the training opportunities afforded to it," said Georgia Army National Guard Commander, Brigadier General Randall Simmons Jr. "There is no better training opportunity on the planet than a collective training readiness center like JRTC."

Commanders and staff primaries spent over a year planning the logistics of the operation by way of meetings, visits, and phone calls with on-post coordinators. While Ga. ARNG's cycle at Fort Polk spans almost the entire month, the actual evaluation phase lasts only a few weeks. The weeks before and after are necessary to move thousands of personnel, hundreds of vehicles, and a massive array of equipment and personal gear.

The middle weeks that Soldiers spend in the dirt, wearing Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES) halos and harnesses, challenges the participants to react and make decisions under pressure in specialized scenarios. The unique events within the storyline require the rotational training unit (RTU) to work with role players that vary from local villagers to ambassadors of foreign lands. They conduct all of this under the watchful eye of observer controller-trainers, who provide feedback and mentorship during and after the rotation is completed.

"We want the brigade to show improvement from day one to the last training day," said Simmons. "We want them to get better. They'll have many reps of training through this rotation and build on their competencies which will give them much more confidence going forward"

The lessons learned from this exercise will be packaged up as after action reviews and built upon as the brigade moves closer to a deployment timeline. Everyone from the newest junior Guardsmen to the most seasoned leaders will have opportunities for growth as they respond to high stress decision making processes and tactical battles with enemy opposition forces, played by visiting National Guard members from other states.

While the 48th IBCT is ultimately the brigade conducting the rotation, a number of support elements to include those from 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, headquartered in Columbus, Ga., provide administrative, logistical, and operational support to the Soldiers conducting mission scenarios within the training area.

"The big challenge is that we are bringing not only my Soldiers here, but Soldiers from the brigade and other units across the state," said Lt. Col. John Lowe, commander of the 348th Brigade Support Battalion, Ellenwood, Ga. "We're spread all across the post, so we're not all physically located together."

Lowe also expressed his appreciation for the way his Soldiers gelled quickly to make the rotational support a success. "They've come in, and they've had a great attitude," said Lowe. "It was pretty seamless."

The 48th IBCT was partnered with the active Army through the Associated Unit Pilot program in 2016, task organizing with the 3rd Infantry Division located in Fort Stewart. Throughout the last two years, the brigade has conducted a number of training exercises with the division and is now being evaluated and certified as a ready brigade that can be deployed to support 3rd ID combatant commanders during future overseas contingencies.

'The world is a very dangerous place and the threats that face our nation are real," said Simmons. 'If we are called in the future to do something, rotations like this and training opportunities like this will help our Soldiers be more lethal and more survivable on the battlefield."