Fort Stewart, Ga. - More than 1,100 Georgia Guardsmen from across the state converged on Fort Stewart, Ga. for two weeks, to conduct annual training to increase the state's readiness in Soldier tasks.

Guardsmen from the 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (Columbus, Ga.), the 878th Engineer Battalion (Augusta, Ga.) and 170th Military Police Battalion (Decatur, Ga.) conducted live-fire small arms and crew-served weapons qualification, demolition procedures, unmanned aerial vehicle certification, less-than-lethal tactics and techniques and convoy live-fire operations.

All of the units stressed personal readiness and the ability to deploy rapidly throughout the training period.

"Be ready to deploy," said Brig. Gen. Randall V. Simmons Jr., Georgia Army National Guard Commander. "We are an Army at war and having numerous Focused Readiness Units in our formation; we can be called into service at a moment's notice."

National Guard Focused Readiness Units (FRU) are tasked with rapidly responding to real-world domestic and overseas operations, enhancing the Army's ability to respond to national security threats.

"We are focusing on training," said Simmons. "Reducing the amount of mandatory briefs allows you to focus more on your mission training and fighting the enemy."

Georgia Guardsmen were extremely busy on Fort Stewart's live fire ranges, training and qualifying on the various weapons systems used throughout the state. The training provided Soldiers opportunities to familiarize and qualify with everything from pistols to automatic grenade launchers.

"I love the opportunity to train our Soldiers on the M2 (.50 caliber machine gun)," said Spc. Terrance Favors, an assistant gunner with the Thomson based, Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 214th Field Artillery Regiment. "Any chance I can get to train Soldiers or shoot the M2 I'm always ready for."

Favors, a former Marine, entered the Georgia Army National Guard after leaving the U.S. Marines. He choose the Georgia Guard when other services did not have the Military Occupational Specialty he wanted.

"I ran into a Guard recruiter who was a Marine buddy of mine and he was able to get me the job I wanted so I signed up," he said.

Weapon qualifications were not the only training event going on around the post. Engineers trained with live demolitions on various scenarios from door and wall breaching to mine clearing.

Tactics and techniques on utilizing demolitions were trained and tested throughout the week, with a focus on safety.

"We need to ensure our guys have the knowledge to emplace and detonate the charges by themselves when the time comes," said Sgt. Justin Cloud, a combat engineer and range noncommissioned officer, from the Douglasville based 848th Engineer Company. "This is the first time a lot of young Soldiers have worked with live explosive since basic training."

Military policemen were trained in all aspects of their MOS with training ranging from various weapon systems, unmanned aerial vehicle training to TASER and oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray certification.

Over 40 Soldiers certified in the proper and ethical use of the TASER and OC spray, which included part of the certification included "taking the ride" or being engaged by the TASER so they could understand the effects and how it incapacitates a combative subject.

"I was really nervous about the less lethal training," said Pfc. Janique Tourbe, a military policeman with the Kennesaw based 190th Military Police Company. "Being tased for the first time is not something I'm going to forget."

The MPs continued to improve their readiness by qualifying 10 Raven UAV operators during the RQ-11 Raven operator's course conducted during the week. The training provides leaders the opportunity to scout and recon areas without putting Soldiers at direct risk.

Annual Training usually is the most extended period of opportunity for Guard leaders to influence, mentor and establish teams.

Georgia Army National Guard Command Sergeant Major Shawn D. Lewis, spoke directly to Soldiers and noncommissioned officers about the importance of junior NCOs knowing and mentoring their Soldiers on a host of issues facing the enlisted force ranging from balancing their military and civilian lives to suicide prevention.

"We have to stop talking at our Soldiers and start talking with our Soldiers," said Lewis. "Conversations happen between peers and their first line leaders."

Lewis stressed the importance of the NCO support channel in solving issues unique to Georgia Guardsmen.

"Sergeants are the key to having conversations with their Soldiers to identify and resolve the problems they are dealing with," he said. "Often these NCOs have experienced the same issues and can provide insight into how to resolve them."

Conducted primarily in the summer months, the two-week training evolution prepares citizen Soldiers for real world mission that may include overseas support to combatant commander and domestic emergency response in the state or region.