FORT POLK, La. – More than 50 Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group, are supporting the Arkansas National Guard's 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team during training July 10-Aug. 3.
Col. Paul Gravely, the Virginia Army National Guard G3 state operations officer, said the training was extremely important to build and maintain readiness.
"The evaluations conducted at JRTC are important for units to test and review their training management processes, and gives them the opportunity to participate in an exercise at the BCT level in the most realistic environment available for training," he said.
"This is a huge opportunity for our Soldiers to get some real training not only on their military occupational specialty, but other warrior aspects such as communications, and seeing how they as engineers impact the battlefield," said 1st Lt. Kevin Eddins, the 180th's executive officer. "Our Soldiers are used to only working in one small area during our weekend drills, and this training exercise will help them see how their skills fit in the larger picture."
The 180th will help the 39th build fighting positions and support tactical operations at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk.
"At this point, our main mission is to support the 39th IBCT by digging infantry fighting positions, vehicle-fighting positions, and fortifying the battalion-sized tactical operations center while in the field," said Eddins. "We expect to fully utilize our digging assets the entire time to support the infantry and are hopeful that we will be gainfully employed the entire time."
The 180th will also employ its vertical capabilities to support the JRTC training scenario and Fort Polk's facilities.
"Our vertical section will conduct maintenance on the operations in a so-called 'civilian zone,' rebuilding critical infrastructure," said Eddins. "Some of the projects include rebuilding Fort Polk range infrastructure that needs to be repaired. The main focus will be on carpentry projects and will be rebuilding subfloors, stairs, and repair walls to range buildings in a simulated civilian zone."
For the mission, the 180th transported more than 30 pieces of heavy equipment via line haul to Fort Polk, including bulldozers, excavators, light-medium tactical vehicles, trailers and Humvees. The unit transported all of the equipment to Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett, where the Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site staff helped load it onto trailers for line haul to Fort Polk.
"All of this wouldn't be possible without the MATES shop loading up all the line haul," Eddins said. "Thanks to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jacob White and his crew for their help."
Eddins said lead-up training was vital after several months of remote drills because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Law enforcement support missions also kept them from practicing their engineer craft.
"When restrictions finally began to lift this past spring, we made training happen by getting all our equipment to Fort Pickett and spending 10-20 hours operating at landing zone castle over a period of two drills," explained Eddins. "Overall, it was definitely some of the best training our unit has been through over the last few years."
Eddins is confident the unit will use that training to complete its mission in Louisiana.
"Even though we a taking a minimum amount of Soldiers, we will still be operating at maximum capacity for engineers," said Eddins. "I know that they are capable and will rise to the occasion after overcoming so many obstacles to get here.
"In the future, this will definitely enable our unit to be a better engineer unit by giving our Soldiers experience, camaraderie, and building teamwork. In the event that we are called for deployment, this will give some of our younger Soldiers serving in leadership positions the necessary experience to practice their leadership, especially under stressful circumstances."