FORT HOOD, Texas — The 174th Infantry Brigade partnered with the Tennessee Army National Guard’s 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment to provide tough, realistic training during the Guard unit’s 14-day eXportable Combat Training Capability here.
Getting to this stage in its training cycle was no easy task, according to Col. Steven Turner, commander, 278th ACR, as the unit faced many challenges in 2020.
“Prior to this exercise, last year we had natural disasters in middle Tennessee and the Nashville area, as well as in the Chattanooga area,” Turner said. “Our regiment spans the entire state, so we had some Soldiers affected by that, and we had some units who responded to those disasters as well.
“Shortly after that, the COVID lockdowns began in March (last year). We ultimately had about 400 Soldiers come down with COVID,” he added.
The past year also drew the Tennessee Army National Guard unit into action elsewhere.
“We were also called upon to provide Soldiers and equipment to the state capital as well as to Washington, D.C., last summer and again for the Inauguration,” he said.
After a year of missions geographically dispersing his unit across the United States, Turner said his objective for XCTC 21-03 was to build better platoons.
“The biggest training objective here was to create lethal platoons, and to ensure that we were conducting the right troop leading procedures, rehearsals…all the things necessary to provide that platoon training,” he said.
Training lanes featured platoons drilling in tasks such as moving to contact, screening a force, and attacking and defending positions, a complex sequence of events Turner wanted all levels of leadership involved in.
“Meanwhile, we wanted to conduct multi-echelon training,” Turner said. “While the platoons were in the fight, we wanted them to be commanded and controlled by the troop commanders and enablers, so we simultaneously conducted a command post exercise where we did multiple levels of (the) military decision-making process, and issued those orders. It all culminated with a field training exercise where the Soldiers on the ground executed some of those plans we made during the military decision-making process."
As the 278th ACR continued to refine tactics and apply lessons learned ahead of subsequent mission injects, observer coach/trainers from the 174th soon noticed changes within those platoons.
“The level of proficiency for 3rd Platoon was dramatically improved through the mentorship and disciplined initiative of their younger NCOs,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Adams, an OC/T assigned to 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry Regiment, 174th Infantry Brigade. “The platoon, eager to learn, was extremely flexible and adaptable, and was always looking for an opportunity to do each task better than before.”
During the culminating training event, squadrons packed up and moved positions to begin multi-echelon training in the heart of Atropia, a fictional country used in many Army exercises.
For four days they unleashed their full capabilities as scouts located and gathered intelligence on enemies in the area, and the 278th ACR tanks and mechanized infantry held their ground. The exercise concluded when 2nd Squadron repulsed an attack on its defensive position by the OPFOR.
Turner praised the invaluable training the 278th ACR received from their First Army counterparts during a final after-action review.
“We absolutely achieved our goals and in some cases we exceeded them,” he said. “(XCTC 21-03) was extremely useful, and the lessons we’ve learned we’ll take back and continue to build on those lessons as we make training plans in the next year."
Despite changes and challenges ahead, Turner’s confidence in his unit’s ability to be always ready and always there is unyielding.
“As we receive new equipment and have a National Training Center rotation in 2024, I feel like we’re poised to get after those collective training events.”