By Sheryl Nix, Fort Wainwright PAOAugust 6, 2010
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Planning and executing the first large-scale, collective battalion training event since redeploying from Iraq last year while integrating aviation assets, rugged and diverse terrain and a whole crop of new-to-the-Army and new-to-the-battalion Soldiers is no easy task. But according to Command Sgt. Maj. James C. Coroy, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, command sergeant major, it was not about easy for the Soldiers and leaders of the Arctic Legion; it was about applying the basics.
"I have over 100 new Soldiers in the battalion in the last four weeks," he said. "We have a lot of new Soldiers right from basic training so this is just to get our basic systems down and to get those guys integrated onto the team."
New 1-24th Soldiers received their baptism by fire alongside their more seasoned counterparts and leaders during the four-day training at the Yukon Training Area near Eielson Air Force Base last week.
Companies air assaulted into the training area from Fort Wainwright July 26 and that was just the beginning of the their collaboration with 16th Combat Aviation Brigade Soldiers and aircraft, which was essential to their training, said Lt. Col Jeff Stewart, commander, 1-24th.
"The reason that this particular exercise is critical to us is the integration of the aviation assets," Stewart said. "This is our opportunity for us to start working in all the aerial assets. We did an air assault movement out here. We've got OH-58s flying in close support for us. And we've got the medevac helicopters."
Aviation support allowed him to familiarize Soldiers with moving on helicopters, teach them how to act on helicopters and help them understand how to utilize helicopters in operations.
"We could not have done it without the tremendous support that we've gotten from the aviation brigade," Stewart said. "Those guys have been fantastic. They have given us way more than we could have hoped for."
Getting back to the basics has been a theme for 1-24th as they completed individual and weapons training in the spring and early summer and then moved into their first collective training of the year.
Each rung on their training ladder represented one more step toward being fully prepared for their mission and Coroy said the plan is to add on different skills and challenges with each step.
"We've got a glide path and we're about halfway up the glide path," he said. "We're just now starting our collective training. We've done all the individual training over the summer before leave and now we're moving in the collective training where we put nine guys together and make them do things as a team and shoot, move and communicate. We've also added the (counterinsurgency) piece."
Arctic Legion planners and leaders placed significant focus on COIN operation during the battalion's recent training and will add even more realism and emphasis during the next collective training in September, Coroy said. But the concepts behind COIN operations have already filtered all the way through the battalion to company and platoon levels and have become common language for Soldiers and leaders throughout 1-24th.
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Sabotka, A Company, 1-24th, said merging traditional combat tactics and COIN is often challenging.
"Tactical proficiency doesn't always translate exactly into COIN," he explained. "It's engaging the enemy with direct fires and the opposite side of that is how do we now change gears and engage ... with nonlethal means."
The battalion will focus heavily on COIN operations during their next, more complicated collective training next month, Coroy said. They will use role players to allow Soldiers to train on consequence management, information operations and key leader engagements with tribal leaders.
But the recent training at YTA was all about focusing on the basics like battle drills, battle tracking and medical evacuation and progressing through their training plan.
"I would like to see our guys get the basics down as we move into the winter months," Coroy said. "Our approach now with this beautiful weather is to be outside and to try to get some of the things (done) that once the weather sets in we're just not going to be able to do and that's incorporating the maneuver and the shooting on a large scale."
Coroy said that while winter weather may preclude extensive outdoor training, 1-24th Soldiers will continue progressing on the training glide path as they prepare for their mission.
"During the winter months here in Fairbanks we'll move into the more advanced COIN training ... and the lines of effort we'll use to be successful (during our next deployment)," he explained.
Although this was the first time the battalion trained collectively this year, they exceeded their commander's expectations.
"The training is going great. Obviously we're identifying problems and things that we need to fix. We have new Soldiers, new staff and new equipment, but we're bringing it all together and we're identifying those things early enough now in training so we can steps to correct it," Stewart said. "Actually we're a little ahead of where I thought we would be. The platoons especially are doing very well."
1st Sgt. John Goforth, first sergeant, A/1-24th, said their success is due to the individual and smaller-scale training they accomplished previously. "You can't be the best at collective (training) unless your Soldiers know their individual tasks," he said.
Goforth also said that teaching new Soldiers the basic philosophies of a Stryker battalion and the need for flexibility in learning dismounted operations and working with aviation assets was crucial as well as just mentoring them in general. "We have probably 20 new privates around here just in A Company," he said.
One of those new Soldiers, Pfc. Brandon Tripp, A/1-24th, arrived at Fort Wainwright a month ago and hit the ground running with coaching and mentoring from his fellow Soldiers.
"They help me out a lot," he said. "They teach me. Show me what I'm doing wrong and help me fix it."
The training was not just for new Soldiers. More experienced Soldiers who have been in the battalion for years praised the training. "It's great," said Spc. Andrew Hobbs, A/1-24th. "This is probably the best (training) I've done."
The next step for 1-24th Soldiers and leaders, a major collective training next month, will add on to their existing knowledge and skills and challenge them in new ways, Coroy said.
"In September we'll get a little more complicated. We'll have real artillery, real air and real rockets," he said. "We'll get a little more advanced."