By Ben AbelDecember 14, 2006
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Army News Service, Dec. 13, 2006) - Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers returning here from Iraq and Afghanistan have a new way to continue their service in uniform.
Helping to ease the transition of part-time Soldiers to full-time warriors, Fort Drum's 174th Infantry Brigade, part of First Army, is one of 16 Army training brigades to take in returning reservists and use their experiences to prepare other citizen-Soldiers for combat rigors.
Operation Warrior Trainer was developed by First Army, who mobilizes and trains reserve-component Soldiers for deployment to combat. OWT's mission is to place experienced combat veterans into the early stages of the training cycle of newly mobilized Reservists.
"These are some very talented individuals, and they're two-time volunteers" said Col. Joseph Dichairo, 174th Infantry Brigade commander. "Having deployed to combat, these Soldiers say 'I want to volunteer to train other volunteers from the same pool of Soldiers that I came from.'"
The brigade has 10 OWT volunteers from a variety of military specialties currently assigned to support mobilization training. The unit expects to have 50 OWT Soldiers in its ranks by the end of October 2007.
Due to personal experiences during the process to mobilize, train, deploy and then return from combat, reserve-component Soldiers participating in OWT add an understanding of the unique challenges mobilizing Reserve and National Guard Soldiers face.
"The Operation Warrior Trainer Soldier comes with the most relevant and credible experience," Dichairo said.
OWT volunteers will assist in convoy live-fire training and conduct drills in various techniques in dealing with IEDs, the number one killer of military personnel in Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Mark Wood, of Omaha, Neb., deployed to Iraq with the Iowa National Guard's 113th Cavalry Regiment, and knows IEDs all too well. His vehicle was hit by seven separate roadside bombs out of 63 that his unit encountered during their one-year tour. Still, he wanted to help fellow Soldiers.
"Five hours after a 30-hour flight the Army offered this position to me," Wood said, referring to the proposal he was given to become an OWT trainer. "It's hard on my wife and two kids, but they stand behind me 110 percent."
Another recently returned OWT volunteer, 1st Lt. James Hassell elected to extend his time on active duty because of the example set by trainers with whom he interacted during mobilization training at Camp Atterbury, Ind.
"I knew what I was getting myself into because I saw what the observer, controller-trainers were doing at Camp Atterbury," Hassell said. "I think they need more programs like this."
Soldiers who volunteer to mentor those mobilizing for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't free from the stress of Army life once they leave the combat zone. Many will be stationed far from home and family.
OWT trainer 1st Lt. Pedro Ramirez from Puerto Rico decided to brave the cold and snow of northern New York so he could share his combat experience. Ramirez had been deployed to Balad Air Base in Iraq with 19th Corps Maintenance Management Center and served as a battle captain in his unit's supply division.
"If I can help save one Soldier's life because of what I teach him, it makes this job worth it," Ramirez said.
The 174th Infantry Brigade was recently reflagged. It was previously known as 2nd Brigade, 78th Division (Training Support). A ceremony to mark the unit's new designation is scheduled for spring.
(Ben Abel serves with the 10th Mountain Division Public Affairs.)