By Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan WileyNovember 1, 2011
CAMP SHELBY, Miss. -- When Daica Rogers, a 21-year-old native of Cleveland, Ohio, joined the Ohio National Guard a year ago, she wasn't sure what to expect, but she knew one thing -- she was going to Afghanistan.
"When I first joined the Guard, I was told the unit I was going to be going to will deploy, but I wanted to join anyways. I wasn't trying to run from it. I was excited about it," she said.
Rogers is now an Army private first class, and the unit she is with, the 1/134th Field Artillery Battalion, has been at Camp Shelby, Miss., a National Guard and Reserve training and mobilization center, since mid-August to train up and prepare for an early November Afghanistan deployment. To help them, Soldiers from the 188th Infantry Brigade and other brigades in First Army have been on hand to sharpen their skills
The 188th Infantry Brigade trained and mentored the 1 /134th Soldiers during their final field training exercise, which took place Oct. 20-23, and was designed to bring all of the skills the Soldiers had learned over the course of the past several weeks together into a culminating event.
One of the many things Rogers did not know about the Army before joining is the heavy emphasis its leaders place on coaching and mentorship. Before the Army sends Soldiers into harm's way, its leaders make sure they receive the absolute best training that can be provided.
It is a job that the Soldiers of the 188th take very seriously.
"We are the last piece of the big Army that these Soldiers will see before they go into theater, and we're the last way station that can help them prior to deployment. Here, the cost of a mistake is simply redoing the patrol or the mission, but the next time they do it, people will be shooting back at them. That's a heavy responsibility, but that's what motivates my Soldiers," said Lt. Col. Timothy Gauthier, the commander of the 1/306th Regiment, the 188th Infantry Brigade, the unit which provided most of the trainer and mentor coverage.
Gauthier explained that most of the Soldiers in his battalion were platoon sergeants in units that did combat deployments before coming to this assignment.
Rogers said she cannot emphasize enough how much she has benefited from the knowledge and experience that they passed on to her while she was at Camp Shelby.
"The training here has built my confidence a lot," she said. "They have really emphasized skills like how to react to IEDs [improvised explosive devices], which is one of the main killers of Soldiers over there. I'm glad that they're working with us and giving us the tools and experience we need to know how to protect ourselves and deal with all kinds of situations," she added.
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Mikan, a Trainer/mentor with the 188th, works with thousands of Soldiers like Rogers every year.
"This is a very rewarding job," Mikan said. "When you first start working with a platoon, it can be chaos. They're not sure how to do things like their pre-combat checks, but by the end of a training exercise, they're doing it. They have checklists. They're all in one line and uniform. The platoon sergeant is doing his thing. It's really great to see."
ikan has multiple combat deployments underneath his belt, most recently to Afghanistan.
Lt. Col. Craig Baker, the commander of the 1 /134th and native of Fairborn, Ohio, said the training his Soldiers received during its time at Camp Shelby has set his unit up for a successful deployment.
"Being at a mobilization site like Camp Shelby allows a unit's leadership to get their team together and developed. As a guardsman, it's not like you just put the uniform on and you're ready to go. It takes a little time to get into the saddle. You have to get the mentality right," Baker said.
As it has gone through this process, Baker said, the First Army Soldiers made it very clear that they were on hand to help facilitate the training process. "To a man, every person I have spoken to and has said this is your training. Speaking to me, they have said, you're the commander, this is your battalion. Just tell us what you want and how you want to see it, and we will help you get there," he said.
Even with all of the training by experienced combat Soldiers, Rogers admitted she is still nervous about going to Afghanistan.
"I don't know what to expect, but at the same time, when duty calls, I'm ready to pursue my mission," she said. Rogers said her aunt and uncle Valerie and Christopher Gulley back in Cleveland pray for her and her battle buddies every night, and she will carry those prayers with her for protection in Afghanistan.
She will also be protected by the instruction she got from Mikan and the experienced combat veterans whose job it is to train Soldiers like her.
The 188th Infantry Brigade, along with the other training support brigades in First Army Division East, provides and facilitates theater-focused training for deploying National Guard and Reserve units and assists with redeployment and demobilizing following deployment. Based out of Fort Stewart, Ga., the 188th "Battle Ready" Brigade has been training Reserve Component units for deployments continuously since 2003.