FORT PICKETT, Va. - For the past few weeks, Pennsylvania and Maryland Guard Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 28th Infantry Division has been training day and night, sharpening their collective and platoon-level tasks under the watchful eyes of observer-coach-trainers (OC/Ts) from the 174th Infantry Brigade at eXportable Combat Training Capability 19-02.

But for the next few days, they're transitioning to an entirely different level of training: they're mounting a brigade-level defense against a peer or near-peer enemy.

That means they'll defend against a like number of enemy personnel with the same capabilities as themselves.

"Nobody here has been in large-scale ground warfare," Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Lamkins, the senior enlisted adviser of the 174th said while briefing OC/Ts on the upcoming exercise. "I haven't either. But it's what we used to train for in the '90s before 9/11 changed everything."

The shift back to training against near-peer adversaries means that many of the tactics, techniques, and procedures U.S. forces have applied in counter-insurgency (COIN) warfare won't apply.

"In COIN, we always had air superiority: an attack weapons team, F-16s, A-10s... here, those can get shot down," Lamkins said. "We're used to having electronic systems tracking every aspect of the battle, but those can be jammed. Units will need to practice their analog skills."

During this defense, artillery will reclaim its title as "The King of Battle," although the devastating effects of their fires will be notional. The Soldiers in training, colloquially referred to as BLUFOR, for blue force, will tell an OC/T they're requesting artillery at a certain point, and the OC/T will radio that request to a fire direction center, then assess the damage based on the positioning data and type of fire requested.

That can cut both ways, however. The opposing force soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, colloquially known as OPFOR, have their own artillery.

OPFOR will have fewer fire missions available to them, but they'll be devastating, in accordance with Russian-influenced doctrine.

"We use fires to slow the enemy down and fix them in place, then eliminate them with direct-fire weapons systems. Russian doctrine is the opposite," Lamkins said. "They train to fix us with maneuver formations and then launch massive artillery barrages that destroy entire grid squares.
BLUFOR better dig deep with their fighting positions," he concluded.

With only 300 troops playing the part of around 3,000, the average OPFOR troop will take part in many large-scale engagements before the end of the exercise. And with only a few pickup trucks modified to look like armored vehicles, they'll usually be on foot as they move across the training area to their next engagement.

It's an ambitious exercise for an XCTC rotation, which generally focuses on tasks at the platoon level and below, according to their website.

"It's going to be hectic, but it'll make the Iron Brigade better Soldiers," Lamkins said.