FORT IRWIN, Calif. - More than 4,500 Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers returned home late last week after completing a month-long rotation at the U.S. Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, with the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team. The large-scale exercise was the brigade's final training requirement in its four-year training cycle before it is available to complete a real-world mission in 2020.

"The 116th CBCT deployed to the National Training Center to train under the most war-like conditions available," said Maj. Noah Siple, brigade operations officer. "There is no other place where an armored brigade can train in every facet of its mission. Every Soldier was challenged to the highest point."

The rotation included a 14-day field training exercise that allowed the brigade to conduct offensive, defensive and security area training tasks while in continuous contact for more than 250 hours against a near-peer force provided by the U.S. Army's 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.

"The brigade learned a lot and grew exponentially between days 1-14," said Col. Scott Sheridan, 116th CBCT commander, "This is a learning and growing organization because everyone is willing to make themselves uncomfortable to grow professionally."

The National Training Center is one of the Army's four combat training centers designed to offer Soldiers and units the most realistic training environment possible. In addition to providing opposing forces to simulate a near-peer enemy, the training area offers maneuver area large enough for the brigade to conduct company, battalion and brigade operations.

The 116th CBCT is headquartered in Boise and includes the Montana Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 163rd Cavalry Regiment; the Nevada Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 221st Cavalry Regiment; and the Oregon Army National Guard's 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment. In addition to the 1,200 Soldiers the battalions provided the 116th CBCT, the unit was also supplemented by more than 1,000 Army National Guard Soldiers from nine Army National Guard states, four U.S. Army Reserve units and the U.S. Army's 916th Support Brigade.

"It was inspiring to see nine battalions and 50-plus company, troop and battery commanders come together in the hostile environment of the National Training Center and in less than 15 days mold themselves into an effective brigade combat team," said Brig. Gen. Farin Schwartz, commander, Idaho Army National Guard and the brigade's senior trainer for the rotation.

The Arizona Army National Guard's 158th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion supported the brigade and the California Army National Guard's 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment provided air support for the brigade's rotation. Army National Guard units from the Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Army Reserve's 221st Ordinance Company, 360th Tactical Psyop Company, 439th Quartermaster Company and Company D, 451 Civil Affairs Battalion also supported the brigade's rotation.

In addition to the brigade's three out-of-state battalions, the brigade consists of four battalions located in Idaho. The 1st Battalion, 148th Field Artillery Regiment is headquartered in Pocatello and spread out throughout Eastern Idaho. The 116th Brigade Engineer Battalion, headquartered in Twin Falls, has armories in Boise, Gooding, Grangeville, Jerome, Mountain Home, Moscow and Orofino. The 145th Brigade Support Battalion is located in Boise and Post Falls with its headquarters in Lewiston. The 2nd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment is headquartered in Caldwell with armories in Boise, Emmet and Nampa.

With the brigade spread out across four states, the rotation was the brigade's first opportunity to train together as a fighting force since its 2015 rotation. The rotation also tested the unit's ability sustain itself across a training area roughly the size of Rhode Island, a task that is near impossible to train at unit home stations due to the amount of space required to stress the brigade's resupply, medical evacuation and maintenance recovery plans.

For the first 10 days of the exercise, the 116th CBCT conducted wartime operations against the near-peer opposing force before spending the final five days of the exercise conducting live-fire exercises to increase the unit's ability to maneuver as a brigade and part of a joint task force.

The large-scale exercise required additional training days for the unit's traditional Guardsmen. In addition to the 29-day rotation, most Soldiers completed 10-day gunnery cycles, completed three weeks of annual training last year building to this year's rotation or attended the Leadership Training Program at Fort Irwin in November.

"No Solider could patriciate in this training rotation without the love, support and understanding of their loved ones back home," Sheridan said. "We also fully recognize having our Soldiers away for extended periods of time is challenging for our Guard employers. We appreciate both our Soldiers' families and their employers for their continued support, which allows our Citizen-Soldiers to serve their communities."

The 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team will next participate in Defender 2020 in the spring, which includes a month-long deployment to Germany. The unit will demonstrate the ability of an armored brigade combat team to deploy from the U.S., draw equipment and rapidly build combat forces in Europe. During the exercise, the brigade will conduct training in a high-intensity European scenario fight.

Throughout its NTC rotation, the Idaho Air National Guard's 124th Fighter Wing provided close air support and tactical air control through its participation in Green Flag-West, a realistic air-land integration combat training exercise. The wing, headquartered less than a mile away from the 116th CBCT on Boise's Gowen Field, was based in Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas throughout its exercise.

"Incorporating the Air Force allowed us to synchronize the effects of both ground and air forces against the enemy," Sheridan said.

More than 200 pilots and ground crew from the wing's 190th Fighter Squadron supported flight operations. 190th Air Support Operations Squadron joint terminal attack controllers, aligned with the 116th CBCT, deploy anywhere the 116th CBCT does to coordinate the use of close air support to support the brigade's deep fight.

"It's really awesome to work with Idaho Army National Guard Soldiers," said Lt. Col. "Champ" Clark, 190th Fighter Squadron commander. "Those relationships we build at home, we continue out here and take back with us."