CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - Approximately 3,000 Iowa National Guard (IANG) Soldiers are gathered at Camp Ripley, Minnesota, for a 21-day Exportable Combat Training Capability (XCTC) rotation. XCTC is an instrumented brigade field training exercise designed to certify platoon proficiency in coordination with First Army.

Soldiers like Spc. Joshua Bender, a combat engineer with Company B, 224th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, IANG (Davenport), have the opportunity to enhance their skills and operate in a challenging and dynamic environment.

On a hot, 90-degree afternoon on the northern side of Camp Ripley's training area, Bender said he looked forward to working with live explosives.

"I like being out in the field, patrolling, breaching obstacles, engaging targets and doing field exercises," Bender said.

Bender is from DeWitt, Iowa, and joined the IANG in 2016. One of the primary benefits of being in the 224th BEB is the opportunity for mentorship.

"My first sergeant is a big mentor of mine," Bender said. "He's kind of helped me get to the places I am. I look up to him a lot just because he's a Sapper, which is like an elite combat engineer."

He said he hopes to attend the Sapper Leader Course during his military career, as well. But in the meantime, Bender has successfully earned his wings by graduating Air Assault School. Being air assault qualified puts him in a unique position to support unit operations.

"It makes me more usable," Bender said. "I can help my unit more. Even in basic training, I knew I wanted to go."