“Contact! Contact!” Soldiers yell out to each other as they begin to take simulated fire from up the hill.
It is was part of a week-long training event for the 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade at Camp Williams, Utah. They call it “annual training,” but this is hardly routine. More than 250 Soldiers are involved to help get the 204th MEB ready for an upcoming mobilization to Africa.
To be ready, they have to get back to basics. That means lots of review and practice of squad tactics and individual Soldier skills.
“The Army identifies when you get mobilized what they want you to accomplish,” said Capt. Timothy Klase, the training officer for the 204th. “It's what we call the army warrior tasks and battle drills and that’s what we needed to do.”
Each Soldier had to complete around 70 individual tasks. They included operating a radio, applying a tourniquet, land navigation, and tactical movements. Soldiers participated in small group instruction, then demonstrated their ability to perform each task individually during the first two days of training.
“Then you compile all of those warrior tasks into battle drills that progress and build on each other,” said Klase. “You might start filling (programming) an individual radio on your own, then it will progress to utilizing that radio in a squad formation that's under attack.”
During training, the Soldiers encamped in an area called the “One Station Unit Trainer” (OSUT). The OSUT has a half a dozen classrooms, a bivouac area, and lanes to test Soldiers on their skills.
One of the lanes required squads to react to a near ambush. Lane observers gave each squad an order. Then the squad would organize and plan the mission according to what they had learned in the classes.
Most of the Soldiers participated last week to conduct five days and nights of intense training. The event, however, had been building for months.
“We started setting up six to eight months ago in order to develop the scheme of what the commander wanted,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ian Moffat.
Moffatt is a construction engineer with 189th Combat Arms Training Brigade, First Army. It’s an active duty unit based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord whose job is to train other units getting ready for deployment.
“The commander tells us exactly what his priority mission-essential tasks are and then we align that with the actual mission that the unit is going to do,” said Moffatt. “Once the commander agrees to it, we design training for the unit.”
In addition to classes for all of the individual tasks, the final plan included four combat scenarios, night driving, and land navigation.
During the land navigation lane, Soldiers were given a map and a compass and had to locate four unique points spread out across several square kilometers. They had to do it once in the daytime, and once again at night with low visibility.
Klase and Moffatt were part of a small team to develop the plan in its early stages. That team grew as the training date approached.
By the time of the training event there were around 70 Soldiers in support of those getting trained. Those getting ready to deploy were grouped into 15 squads, each with an officer and a noncommissioned officer in charge.
Every Soldier, regardless of rank, role, or experience, had to complete the same training before they can mobilize. It’s a way, say leaders, to ensure that everyone has mastered the basics.
“You just don't know what type of battle we're going to be in, so you have to really prepare for really anything and everything that comes your way,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Garrett Whatcott.
Whatcott is currently serving as the command sergeant major for the 625th Military Police Battalion, which is part of the 204th. He has deployed twice but said it’s always good for Soldiers to refresh their battle skills.
“These are perishable skills,” said Klase. “Some soldiers may have just done this last month at basic training but others of us haven't deployed in a while so it may have been 10 years since we last did this.”
Pvt. 1st Class Adan Patino is one of those Soldiers who had recently done it. A signal operations specialist assigned to the 217th Brigade Signal Company, he is only a few months out of basic training.
“Even though we are all assigned different [jobs] it's still important for us to know how to maneuver through any situation. So, we have to keep good skills in case we're needed out on the field,” he said.
The 217th is a subordinate unit of the brigade and will be deploying too.
“We’ll probably have to [set up retransmission stations] for our antenna out away from the base so it's important for us to know how to how to maneuver,” added Patino.
The 204th will join with Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), headquartered in the Republic of Djibouti.
“At the very bottom line we are Soldiers,” said 1st Lt. Laura Roberts, a cyber warfare officer assigned to the 204th. “If things hit the wall, then you know we will have to revert back to some of these basic tactics.”
Roberts was a squad leader during the week-long annual training.
“We might not be doing these specific things during our mobilization but it's good to know that we can support each other and be prepared to support the mission,” she said.
The brigade’s mission in Africa includes operations to enhance partner nation capacity, promote regional stability, and dissuade conflict.
CJTF-HOA is critical to U.S. Africa Command's efforts to build partner capacity to counter violent extremists and address other regional security partnerships, according to the task force website.
“The point of this is is when we go downrange the Army trusts that we're Soldiers first and that we can execute basic soldier tasks,” said Klase.
For many of the Soldiers, the battle training is as much about team building as anything else.
“These warrior tasks build the team so you can better prepare yourself to react to any type of situation that you may have,” said Whatcott.
While they were not in classes or on the training lanes getting evaluated, Soldiers spent time with their squads rehearsing movements and getting to know each other better.
“It’s just fantastic bonding,” said Roberts. “You know these people are going to be at your left and right downrange. “I couldn't have had a better squad so honestly they led themselves for the most part.”
“It's been a really good experience. It’s been a lot of one-on-one conversations a lot of training everyday just to prepare for when we're actually getting graded,” said Patino.
“Ultimately I want to be a member of a team too,” added Klase. “After I spent so much time on the training plan I had to hand it off to someone else to execute so I could be that member of the 15-man squad actually operating on the ground,” he said.
“It's a great team-building experience. We need this before we get deployed to build that team cohesion,” said Whatcott.
The 204th will continue training specific to the requirements of the Africa mission until the deploy next Spring.