By Sara Morris and Maj. Joseph Siemandel, Washington National GuardApril 22, 2019
CAMP MURRAY, Wash. -- Standing behind the massive tail wing of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, Command Sgt. Maj. Alfonso Cadena can only say one thing.
"If I had to do it all over again, I would think about the Air Force -- this is impressive," said Cadena, a 37-year Army veteran and command sergeant major of the 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team. "Flying places seems much easier."
Cadena and leadership from 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry took time April 4 to observe as Stryker Fighting Vehicles from Attack Company loaded into the massive plane on Joint Base Lewis-McChord before departing for Grant County Airport, in Moses Lake, Wash., en route to the battalion's weeklong training exercise at the Yakima Training Center.
"We are constantly challenging the status quo and looking for new and exciting opportunities that exist within our state," said Capt. Jeremy Catob, commander for Attack Company. "Driving Strykers or prepositioning them and using buses for transit is what everyone else does. The Dark Rifles and Attack Company are constantly striving to separate ourselves and demonstrate our capability for greatness."
Catob and Company 1st Sgt. Tim Englund began coming up with the idea, but both gave a lot of credit to their Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Matt James for getting the idea off the ground.
"Lieutenant Colonel James is the type of leader that challenges us not to accept 'no' for an answer and never allow frustration to reach apathy," said Catob. "I left that conversation and started leveraging contacts, existing relationships, making calls and sending emails."
Once they found the right contacts, they began putting the plan together. However, the Soldiers of the company didn't buy in right away to the command team's plan.
"There were mixed reactions when we first pitched this mission to the company," said Catob. "Once our Soldiers drove their Strykers to Gray Army Airfield though, they showed their excitement."
Loading the nearly 19-ton, 22-foot long Strykers though was just the start, getting two in the aircraft, strapped down safely for takeoff and landing took work and a lot of expertise. Crew members from the 62nd Airlift Wing from McChord Field provided expertise as they showed the infantrymen the right way to secure the load.
"The Air Force crew was exceptional in this process and allowed our Soldier's hands-on training to chain down the Strykers on the aircraft," said Catob.
Catob said even though it was a lot of work he believes the experience was well worth the process.
"We were learning every step along the way -- through personnel requirements to producing actual products to move equipment this way," said Catob. "I listened to my Soldiers tell me their stories with excitement, which tells me that it wasn't a waste of their time and added to the week of training."
Once on the ground and unloaded, Attack Company Soldiers joined the rest of the battalion for a weeklong training exercise, leading up to the 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team's Exportable Combat Training Capability (xCTC) rotation in June at the training center.
The third battalion was able to qualify Stryker crews firing from the vehicle and squads on a dismounted infantry live-fire exercise. This familiarization will be put to the test during the xCTC, Bayonet Focus.
During Bayonet Focus, the platoons will conduct a live-fire exercise that integrates the infantry squads with the Stryker vehicles, mortars, snipers and medics where together they assault an enemy objective, both day and night, firing live rounds from all weapons systems.
"To conduct the platoon live-fire exercise at bayonet focus, squads and Stryker crews had to certify or qualify at their level," said Maj. Nick Stuart, 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment's operations officer. "We build live-fire proficiency starting with the smaller pieces (teams or squads) and once they demonstrate proficiency, integrate them into larger formations (platoons, companies and so on) to build into larger scale collective live fire."
All rifle squads and 95 percent of the Stryker crews were able to qualify on their platform. The Stryker crews had to deal with high winds and bad weather, and they will get the chance to qualify in June before the start of bayonet focus.
Stuart observed tremendous growth in the capabilities and confidence of the Soldiers over the week.
"The biggest challenge is often just building the cohesion one weekend a month," Stuart said. Conducting a six-day 'drill' allowed for our Soldiers to not only train but develop that cohesion at all echelons. We are postured well to attack the platoon and company operations at bayonet focus."