Bastogne faced quite a few challenges with only a few short months to prepare for the Army’s premier training center because of the necessary restrictions established in response to COVID-19, but leaders found a way to adapt to those changes while keeping Soldiers safe.
First BCT met the first challenge head-on by testing every Soldier in the brigade for COVID-19 before attending JRTC.
More than 3,100 Soldiers participated in the training in the box, where the Soldiers battled against a notional near-peer threat during force-on-force operations. Because of leadership diligence and strict standards within the brigade and JRTC Operations Group, the unit finished with no positive COVID-19 cases.
Captain Deanna Durbin, brigade medical officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st BCT, lead the brigade in testing Bastogne Soldiers and was confident the unit would remain safe because of the preventive measures put in place by the organization.
“Every single Soldier was tested,” Durbin said. “Upon arrival back at home station, every single Soldier will also be allowed to test again for the safety and peace of mind for themselves and everyone around them.”
Bastogne Soldiers rose to the occasion by venturing out of their comfort zone of the offense and proving they could defend during combat operations. Being a part of the only air assault division, the unit was keen on taking the fight to the notional enemy known as Geronimo, but to meet training objectives the light infantry air assault Soldiers were forced to set up a defense against an aggressive heavily armored attacking force.
Bastogne hastily prepared defensive fighting positions along with detailed and complex obstacles consisting of craters, tank ditches and several triple-strand barbed wire restrictions to stop the notional enemy armor and vehicles.
The Soldiers of C Co., 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment made the initial air assault into the box and played a vital role in the defensive stand against Geronimo.
“I led seven combat engineers while attached to 1-506th Inf. Regt. for the air assault during Joint Forcible Entry operations and as part of the defense,” said Sgt. Zachary Lewis, combat engineer, C Co., 326th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st BCT, who was attached to C Co., 1-506th Inf. Regt. “During the defense, we got hit with gas by the enemy and had to enter MOPP IV [Mission Oriented Protective Posture IV]. During that time, I told Capt. [Andrew] Durfee we can still establish obstacles despite the gas and MOPP IV. We emplaced a tank ditch, a crater mission, tanglefoot obstacles, and a lot more all while in MOPP IV. Capt. Durfee deserves a lot of praise along with his leaders. His platoon leaders did a great job tying the obstacles in with their engagement areas and had AT-4s at the ready. The enemy never broke through.”
Lewis’ efforts earned him the hero of the battle recognition during the JRTC cycle, high praise of the overall defensive posture and bringing the enemy to a screeching halt for more than 37 minutes from Maj. Gen. Brian Winski., commanding general of the 101st Abn. Div. and Fort Campbell.
Although Lewis was named the hero of the battle, he could not stop praising his Soldiers and Durfee for their actions during the defensive stand and the seamless inclusion into C Co., 1-506th Inf. Regt., in his squad’s support role.
“He’s extremely easy to work with,” Lewis said. “It’s usually tough linking into another unit, but we worked well together and he is great. It was a seamless transition for our squad to support his company during operations. The work put in was seen and appreciated by many. I feel like everything successful was achieved as a unit. We share this award. This was not an individual effort.”
Strong defensive efforts also were found at the brigade level. For a rare occurrence at JRTC, the brigade tactical operations center was never found or attacked during force-on-force operations.
This was a goal the HHC, 1st BCT, command team drove toward during their train up for the ultimate test at Fort Polk in preparation for potential real-world operations.
“It starts with following the basics,” said 1st Sgt. David Wasierski, senior enlisted adviser, HHC BDE, who was elated and gave credit to his enablers practicing and enforcing the fundamentals. “Site selection and enforcing security. The basics of patrolling matters whether you are a rifle squad in the wood line or a brigade command post commanding and controlling the fight. I’m incredibly proud of the Soldiers and Airmen within the brigade CP with their strict attention to detail, professional excellence and decisive initiative. Their efforts enabled the brigade to remain undetected, secured and gave our brigade commander the ability to operate without disruption.”
Captain Craig Dolhi, commander, HHC BDE, 1st BCT, echoed his first sergeant, as he took charge of moving the brigade’s leadership and enablers throughout the box ensuring command and control of the unit remained intact and secure.
“When we jumped to our second location, we had generators running within an hour,” Dolhi said. “That S-6, that tech and that enabler displayed their competence and we were successful because of them. Command Sgt. Maj. Wise says it all the time. Do your job. They did it well. It’s our company’s mantra. No soft targets. Geronimo found none.”
The brigade had a successful rotation overall because of Bastogne Soldiers doing their jobs just like Command Sgt. Maj. Derek Wise, 1st BCT senior enlisted adviser, consistently emphasizes. His pride in Bastogne Brigade, despite the short time to prepare and having a new team, was echoed throughout the brigade during his final remarks to the unit during their after-action review of operations at Fort Polk.
“I’m extremely proud of all of you,” Wise said. “Only a handful of people remain here from our last deployment. What we’ve been able to achieve as a new team within the unit in a relatively short period of time is absolutely phenomenal. Let’s remember it does not end here. We are a learning and coachable organization. We are engaged leaders at every echelon. When we get back to home station we will get back to the fundamentals – EFMB, EIB and ESB [Expert Field Medical Badge, Expert Infantry Badge and Expert Soldier Badge]. Just think of how many of our Soldiers are going to go back and show they are an expert in our craft.”
Colonel Robert Born, commander, 1st BCT, said he is excited for Bastogne’s future as a lethal combat team.
“My commander’s intent was to maintain a winning air assault spirit, overcome adversity, get better every day and be coachable,” Born said. “You aced that. We now have a common understanding from colonel to private on what it takes to fight and win in large scale combat operations against a highly lethal and determined threat. We will use that to be precise with our future training and I’m really excited about that.”
Bastogne’s lethality and readiness will not stop at JRTC, the mission will continue as the brigade prepares for future operations and ignites training with the principles and lessons learned while at Fort Polk. The team was given a special task by Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank, commanding general, U.S. Army JRTC and Fort Polk, that the brigade promised to accomplish.
“I was Bastogne 3 in OIF I,” Frank said. “This is a legendary brigade. Lethality and confidence are the two things I want you to take out of this. Additionally, I give you a task that you must take with you. Your Rak counterpart will be here soon. Share everything you learned here with them. Shame on us if we don’t take the lessons learned here and capitalize on them. What plays out in the box plays out in combat.”