FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- The rain poured relentlessly as platoons comprised of leaders from 1st Brigade Combat Team “Bastogne”, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), maneuvered toward the Opposing Forces for a final assault on their objective in the mountains of Dahlonega, Ga. Oct. 28. This assault was the final piece of a 26-hour team-building exercise historically known as Bastogne Forge.
“The point of Bastogne Forge is to build teamwork and camaraderie throughout the 1st BCT,” Col. Robert Born, Commander, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) said. “We’re using some shared hardship, by conducting tactical operations in the mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest, and we’re using history. Those two things together are going to allow for teamwork cooperation across the BCT, and that’s really going to help us as we continue to build readiness in the brigade and develop leaders.”
Since the untimely outbreak of COVID-19, Army Soldiers have been taking steps to mitigate the risk of exposure by practicing social distancing and avoiding large crowds. Combined with a few new leaders within the unit, many of the brigade’s Soldiers don’t know each other.
“Because of the way we’re training, more focused at the platoon and company level, a lot of the Bastogne leaders did not have the opportunity to get to know each other,” Born said. “For them to come together as a team, apply leadership and teamwork, and produce the results on the objective was awesome.”
Cpt. Jonathan Hunter, Battalion Fire Support Officer, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment “Red Currahee”, was one of the platoon leaders for Bastogne Forge. He said the experience was eye-opening and helped provide some perspective on the tasks that leaders ask of their Soldiers on a daily basis.
“It allowed us to retouch the basics and fundamentals of basic riflemanship and infantry tactics,” Hunter said. “To be able to come out here with these other groups of leaders at all echelons and across all branches and execute a two-day mountain phase of ranger school type exercise -- it was timely and I think that it helped shape us as growing officers and leaders.”
Following the mountain field training exercise and with persisting rain, the leaders made their way to Toccoa, Ga. They began the day of Oct. 29, with rotating tours of the Currahee Military Museum, learning the true history of Soldiers who came before them.
Cpt. Lauren Heiliger, company commander, Company E, Forward Support Company, 326th Brigade Engineer Battalion, said the chance to integrate with leaders in the brigade that she doesn’t see daily was a great bonding experience.
“It’s definitely a great historical moment,” Heiliger said. “It has a different ring to it, being here in person, versus reading other stories through social media.”
After the museum tours and during a brief period of sunshine, the group made their way to the infamous Currahee Mountain Trail. The “3 miles up, 3 miles down” trail was made famous during WWII for being used as a Parachute Infantry training path most have seen in the movie “Band of Brothers.”
As the Bastogne leaders made their way up the trail, they detoured for brief lessons of military history. Cpt. Clyde Wilson, brigade logistics officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade Combat Team, was the first Soldier to complete the run and said he used the legacy of Soldiers before him as motivation.
“We are all very competitive as leaders,” Wilson said. “I think about the Soldiers and leaders who have run that in the past, and I have a strong appreciation for them. It makes me feel special to be a part of this unit and proud to be a Bastogne Soldier!”
Col. Born said he shared the sentiment, regarding the historical context of their visit to Currahee Mountain.
“It’s special -- a palpable feeling that connects you spiritually with the original paratroopers who were true pioneers in airborne operations,” Born said. “They were expected to jump behind enemy lines and fight surrounded for an extended period of time. We have so much to be thankful for based on their heroism, competence, and toughness and it really translates into our approach for leader development and building tough soldiers who are going to be able to conduct vertical envelopment behind enemy lines and fight surrounded for an unspecified amount of time.”
Steve Lathan of the Camp Toccoa foundation is a veteran who traversed the mountain since he was a child. He acted as a guide and directed the leaders toward the legendary rock WWII paratroopers touched at the top of Currahee Mountain.
“Without y’all this is meaningless,” Lathan said. “This is your history and legacy, 101st. Keep coming back. You are why we’re here. This is what we do this for.”
The group’s time in Toccoa concluded with some leadership professional development and a WWII presentation at the town’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Command Sgt. Maj. Derek Wise, brigade senior enlisted advisor, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) said that the entire trip was meaningful and productive.
“This was an absolutely exceptional, phenomenal experience,” Wise said. “We as leaders have to continue to do things like this -- it ties us back to the historical aspect, but it also brings us together as a team, and that’s priceless.”