By Sgt. David LietzMarch 5, 2019
CAMP PARKS, Calif. - Brig. Gen. Kris A. Belanger, commanding general of the 85th United States Army Reserve Support Command, visited with her Army Reserve Soldiers assigned to the 2-360th Training Support "Phantom Battalion" during a four-day battle assembly weekend training, November 15 -18, 2018.
"The original purpose of the trip was to participate in their training events, but to also show my support for the troops and their training," explained Belanger.
Smoke from forest fires in California forced some scheduled activities, including a road march, to be cancelled, but the Soldiers of the "Phantom Battalion" took it in stride and continued their mission.
"Drivers training, communication and firing individual weapons," said Maj. Beau Stricklin, Battalion Executive Officer. "That's what this weekend is all about."
Observing, coaching and training Soldiers for overseas deployments and mobilizations is the mission of the "Phantom Battalion".
"We facilitate the training of client units through the process of observing their training, coaching when needed, training when needed, and conducting formal and informal after action reviews," said Sgt. 1st Class Vincent Benitez, Headquarters and Headquarters Company First Sergeant.
"We back everything up through the training manual," Benitez said.
To ensure OC/Ts provide a high level of training, they have Soldiers across a variety of subject matter expertise fields.
"We have signal, engineers, drivers and military police. A massive breath of knowledge here," explained Capt. Heather Burgwald-Mellor, Battalion Adjutant. "Everybody is a subject matter expert, and I love that.
But that does not mean that Soldiers going through a training lane are handed the answer if they are not performing a task or Soldier skill correctly.
"We don't tell you what you did right and wrong. We ask the Soldiers questions that get them thinking," explained Burgwald-Mellor. "We use the Socratic method of instruction."
Using this method, trainers from the battalion do not give the information directly to a Soldier but instead ask questions which results in the student gaining knowledge by answering the questions, or becoming aware of the limits of their knowledge.
To keep their skills sharp, some Soldiers took part in the weekend training while others observed and coached it.
On Friday morning, Belanger participated in Humvee driver's training to experience the training process up close.
"We're going to go on an alternate driver's training course to facilitate driving through the desert," explained Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Miranda, S-3, operations non-commissioned officer in charge.
"Are you ready?" asked Belanger sitting in the right front seat.
Belanger's hands-on approach to training and talking with Soldiers there was valued by the battalion sergeant major, Sgt. Maj. Mark Sumrall.
"The benefit for the unit is that all of the Soldiers get to talk to Brigadier General Belanger. The Soldiers find out that the commanding general is looking after them," Sumrall said. "That's awesome. She's really Soldier-oriented and all about the Soldiers."
Following a lunch break, Belanger received an overview of the mission from Lt. Col. Jennifer Nolan, Garrison Commander, at the headquarters building.
"Mostly our training is focused on battle drills," explained Nolan. "They just (refurbished) the TADS (training aids, devices and simulators) warehouse. You can pretty much go there for whatever you need, for your training exercise."
Among those items were mock AK-47 assault rifles, improvised explosive device simulators and teaching aids for marksmanship training.
An indoor range is also under construction that will feature 10 lanes, according to Nolan. And Nolan added a success story to Belanger on a challenge that she received from the Army Reserve commanding general, Lt. Gen. Charles D. Luckey.
"Lieutenant General Luckey challenged me to get the (qualification) range open," explained Nolan.
And that was a challenge that the battalion accomplished, and Soldiers went to the range for M-9 qualification on that Saturday morning.
"This is the third time the range has been used since it's been open," explained Lt. Col. Terrence Adams, battalion commander. "We are here to meet Lieutenant General Luckey's intent that the range be used."
About 35 Soldiers, including Belanger, took part in qualification on the M-9 range.
Before the range reopened, Soldiers would travel near 200 miles to Fort Hunter Ligget, California for weapons qualification.
"Our unit is here at Camp Parks," explained Sgt. 1st Class Robert Alanis, Bravo team leader. "Coming to drill and getting to shoot and go home is great."
On Saturday afternoon, the Soldiers conducted a formal after action review. They discussed what went right and wrong, and considered areas for improvement on the M-9 range and Humvee driver's training.
"I think it would have been helpful to have different stations to practice engaging the target," suggested Benitez.
During this battle assembly, Alpha team set up the M-9 range and Bravo team conducted the day and night time Humvee driver's training.
"Every month one team is assigned to run a portion of the training," explained Burgwald-Mellor. "It gives us a chance to learn to evaluate other units because we have already done the training."
After the training finished, the Soldiers gathered for a barbecue at the Morale, Welfare and recreation (MWR) building. They played pool, competed in table tennis and took part in unit camaraderie.
"A major strength of this unit is the camaraderie," explained Adams. "We genuinely like one another and we love to train."
The personal connection between the Soldiers was clear to Belanger as well.
"I was really impressed with their esprit de corps, Soldier camaraderie and command climate," she said. "I saw the willingness and dedication of our Soldiers to execute the training to standard and doing it safely. There is nothing more rewarding than being with the Soldiers."