ROVANIEMI TRAINING SITE, FINLAND—“Come on, boys! Get up, get your face paint on!” ordered Sgt. George Arthur Babbage, a U.S. Army infantryman and team leader. Babbage and “the boys,” as he affectionately called the young men surrounding him, are assigned to 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and had been staying in the field for the Aug. 8-11, as part of the 2022 U.S.-Finnish Combined Arms Maneuver Live Fire Exercise (LFX) in thickly-forested Rovaniemi.
The next portion of the LFX would entail live fire and not blanks. The combined units’ soldiers moved into battle positions through wet, arctic-cold marshlands under the direction of Babbage and other team leaders, with the watchful supervision from Finnish officers.
Babbage playfully tapped an unresponsive tent. “Libbey, what’re you doing in there?”
“Moving,” Spc. Brandon Libbey retorted, exiting the tent. The Soldiers, all part of Babbage’s team, gathered around the crackling fire pit, many having already painted their faces as dark as the pit’s ash. Others, such as Libbey, emerged following an (unsuccessful) attempt at catching a nap, too fresh-faced. After painting himself, Libbey critiqued the camouflage skills of his battle buddy, Pfc. Delroy Holness, offering pointers.
“Oh, now you want to help,” Babbage taunted Libbey jokingly. Libbey smirked.
The team’s dynamic was positive and playful—a result of Babbage leadership and expectations for Libbey and his other Soldiers to actively fulfill their duties to the standard that Babbage had set. The team leader’s teasing came from a place where he knew their true potential, not just what they currently showed. Although he is a leader of today, his Soldiers are the leaders of tomorrow, Babbage reminded Libbey.
The infantry team’s time together in the field had been a bonding experience, the positive energy assisted a great deal, his Soldiers said. Having a leader with their best intentions at heart was key, even when he’s repetitiously telling them what to do.
“I’ve been in this position for about two and a half years as the Alpha Team Leader, 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon of “Viper Company,” said Babbage. During that time, he’d grown close with his Soldiers, sharing with them warrior skills for the battlefield and life skills off the battlefield.
Babbage admitted he was nervous initially when told he’d been chosen for the team leader position, as he now felt the weight of greater responsibility for someone beyond himself. Over time, the perception of that responsibility evolved; rather than burdened by it, he felt galvanized. He cared for the Soldiers and wanted them to perform well.
“It’s become a little bit easier knowing you have responsibility over other people,” Babbage said. “When you have that, there’s a lot of motivation behind everything you do. So you make better decisions and you’re always making sure that the guys are doing what they need to do, whether they want to do it or not, therefore shaping the battlefield in a way that can help better accomplish the company’s mission.”
During the duration of his time as a team leader, Babbage has witnessed his Soldiers transform on the battlefield and in their personal lives.
On the battlefield, their marksmanship improved—an area Babbage matter-of-factly remarked as his specialty. The Soldiers learned to think more tactically, always going beyond just their level of maneuver. “To think one level up,” Babbage put it.
In their personal lives, the young men, some having joined just out of high school, learned from their team leader the life skills they hadn’t had the opportunity to be exposed to before coming into the Army: how to cook for themselves, how to buy a car, or use a credit card. It was important to Babbage that his Soldiers could pave their own way and be self-sustained on the battlefield and in life.
A true display of the team’s transformation came at a time, Babbage said, when they were working alongside Norwegian and Finnish armies on an earlier exercise. The team from “Viper” Company took notional opposition forces assault and things started to break down. A loss of communication happened when radios dropped out and left the team without communication with higher-ups, forcing them to fend for themselves.
According to Babbage, the “boys” did this remarkably, being able to maneuver “the way Airborne has always done.” The young men were able to pull together and complete their objectives without radio communication. They were able to make decisions on their own, cleared bunker systems, took prisoners, and cleared the battle space.
Even at times when training didn’t go as planned, Babbage explained, it was still good training. His Soldiers didn’t come out defeated; instead, they came out with valuable lessons they were eager and motivated to implement the next time around.
Now, the next exercise awaits them and Alpha Team looks forward to where it will take them next.