FORT POLK, La. - When the 88th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade deployed to Fort Polk's Peason Ridge Training Area March 1 for an extended training exercise, the unit's commander, Lt. Col. Royce Edington, wasn't sure what to expect. After all, the 88th BSB is only 2 A,A1/2 years old and this was the first time the entire battalion deployed together.

"We set up the brigade support area and exercised all of our capabilities," Edington said. "We've done sustainment to the brigade, field level maintenance and exercised command and control. We even replaced an engine for a palletized loading system in the field."

Edington said the 88th BSB "got back to basics" during the exercise.
"We let our Soldiers operate from the field instead of garrison," he said. "We have about 150 vehicles and 400 Soldiers deployed. We've put them through a busy pace, usually from 5:30 a.m. to midnight, with about 20 missions a day." He said the exercise has been nonstop, and his Soldiers' morale has remained high. "My Soldiers are really fired up. They are soaking in the training."

Although the unit is not on official deployment orders, Edington said the indications are the 88th BSB could deploy as early as the first quarter of the next fiscal year. Because deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq appears imminent, Edington said his Soldiers worked on scenarios they might face in battle.

"We reinforced a lot of our basic soldiering skills," he said. "We also worked on how to defend ourselves while completing our mission. We've gotten better since day one."

Bravo Company, 88th BSB, 1st MEB, contains the unit's mechanics. Capt. David Marshall, B Co commander, said the exercise proved his Soldiers could complete their mission.
"We didn't know our capabilities until we came out and set up shop," Marshall said. "Our guys set up, established security and served our customers - that's what we do."

First Sgt. Arthur Barlow, B Co's senior enlisted Soldier, said the company's Soldiers remained enthusiastic throughout the 10-day exercise.

"Providing support with limited resources has improved our ability as war fighters and increased our confidence," Barlow said. "It has also reinforced leadership's ability to make sound decisions and give guidance to our junior enlisted Soldiers. "For a unit to not only complete its maintenance mission but also defend itself is no small feat - we've done well."

Alpha Company's main role is to serve as parts distributor for the 88th BSB. Capt. Jarmarle Arnold, A Co commander, said having to take care of both garrison and field missions was tough. "We're still doing everything we do in rear while handling missions out here," he said. "It's been a challenge, but we've been successful."

Arnold said what made that challenge even greater was the fact that about 80 percent of his Soldiers were straight out of advanced individual training.
"We've learned a lot about what we can and can't do," he said.

"I feel a lot more comfortable with our Soldiers accomplishing the mission. We've emphasized teamwork and training our younger Soldiers to take over if the leaders become incapacitated."
Spc. Brian Swanson, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 88th BSB, said the deployment has been an "eye opener" for his fellow Soldiers.

"About 75 percent of our Soldiers haven't been in the field," Swanson said. "We've gotten a lot of different training, like how to dig foxholes, setting up fighting positions, facing attacks and squad operations and movements. It's helped my team leading skills."

Second Lt. Thomas Beuschel, A Co, said his unit exercised its ability to decontaminate equipment and personnel. "That was the first time we've decontaminated a vehicle," he said. "Then we decontaminated our Soldiers. It was great training."

Sgt. Hannah Claiborne, A Co, said the exercise benefited younger Soldiers.
"The ones who have been through this before can throw scenarios at us that resemble what's going on now in Afghanistan and Iraq," she said.

One of those younger Soldiers, Spc. Karliza Foon, A Co, said she has enjoyed the exercise - for the most part. "It's been fun most days," she said. "I'm not just typing on a keyboard out here; I'm also pulling guard duty. "And although the 5 a.m. wakeup is tough, the food at the DFAC (dining facility) has been great."

Edington said he was pleased with the 88th BSB's performance during the exercise.
"There are certainly lessons to be learned," he said. "But we set up a brigade support area, manned everything, conducted maintenance both in the field and in garrison, defended our position and successfully conducted convoy operations.
"Our Soldiers made the exercise a success."