FORT MCCOY, Wis. – “Truck One to Truck Two, radio check,” yelled the squad leader over the radio. “Read you loud and clear,” said the convoy commander.
“Let’s go, and remember your training,” said Staff Sgt. Santana Santiago, the 702nd Engineer Company squad leader as she finished giving last minute instruction to her squad.
The Soldiers loaded their trucks and drove away. Everything seemed normal. The Soldiers were all wearing the same gear: helmet, protective armor, gloves, weapons and glistening coats of sweat as the mercury read nearly 100 degrees inside the trucks.
The convoy reached a top speed of 40 mph and a small breeze could be felt inside the truck cabin. Some of the Soldiers broke a small smile as they felt the hot breeze hit their faces, acknowledging this was better than nothing.
For Santiago, a 12-year veteran, she said she thought everything was too quiet. She was expecting something. Over a decade of service and multiple deployments have taught Santiago that a mission is never easy, and everything so far was going according to plan.
Within a few minutes from her last radio check a large explosion rocked the truck with a thunderous boom. Inside everyone jumped in their seats, and the demeanor of the Soldiers' faces changed. Seconds later small arms could be heard.
“Truck One, Truck Two,” said the commander. “(Improvised explosive device) ahead. We have some casualties. We need your truck and the medic to provide aid!”
“Roger!” said Santiago. Determination in her eyes, Santiago took charge.
“We need to move to the front of the convoy and go provide aid to the Soldiers that got hit by the IEDs,” she said. “Remember your training, trust your training,” she advised her Soldiers.
The Soldiers from the 702nd Engineer Company returned fire and moved to their fighting positions. While some provided security, others rendered aid to those who needed it during the simulation training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.
The unit, from Johnson City, Tennessee, is attending their annual training in support of Warrior Exercise (WAREX) 86-21-02 from June 5 to 19 2021. WAREX is a large-scale training exercise consisting of tactical training scenarios specifically designed to replicate real-world missions.
“Today’s scenario was to react to contact, react to an attack of incoming [indirect] fire, CS gas and small-arms fire,” said Santiago..
Ensuring the training is up to standard, the Observer, Coach/Trainers (OC/T) work side by side with roleplayers representing Opposing Forces (OPFOR) to shape the environment and ensure all objectives are met to increase readiness.
During the simulated attack, OPFOR ambushed the platoon, assaulting them throughout the convoy route before backing down. The Soldiers from the 702nd have steadily been increasing in their capabilities throughout the exercise and were preparing for an ambush.
“We took a few simulated casualties, and the Soldiers were treated and evacuated by our own Soldiers during the exercise,” said Staff Sgt. Bruce Shankle, 2nd platoon sergeant, “The Soldiers reacted very well.”
During WAREX, the unit conducted numerous intensive rehearsals to improve security as they worked on their road improvement project and were constantly tested throughout the week.
The training during this annual exercise is vital to ensure the Soldiers are trained and ready when their number is called. Units like the 702nd rarely train at this scale while they are back at home station.
“Our Soldiers have been focusing on Army Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills, which are fundamental combat skills. The whole exercise adds another level of realism. The OPFOR adds the anticipation of engagement, the environment makes things challenging for us and it’s great training overall,” said Santiago. “The Soldiers worked well as a team and I am proud to see all the different abilities we have in our unit.”
Upon completion, the exercise will demonstrate the Army Reserve’s ability to maintain a combat ready Reserve element with a proficiency in fundamental warrior skills.