Soldiers from Company A, 48th
Brigade Special Troops Battalion wait to board a landing UH-60
Blackhawk helicopter during exercise Patriot ’08 at Fort McCoy. (Photo
by Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy)
Suddenly, two UH-60
Blackhawk helicopters appeared over the trees at the far end of the
field. As they landed their rotor wash created a mad dance across the
field as the Soldiers moved in a hunched-over fashion toward them.
Within seconds of
clambering aboard the Blackhawks, the whine of the rotors changed
slightly in pitch and the pilots lifted the birds off the ground,
leaving the field quiet once again.
This airlift mission was
just one part of Patriot ’08, a National Guard-sponsored training
exercise that brought together Army and Air National Guard elements,
active-duty and reserve units, and Canadian, British and Dutch forces.
Split between three
locations — Camp Ripley, Minn., Fort McCoy and Volk Airfield, Wis.
— Patriot ’08 was a 21-day, large-scale exercise featuring more
than 45 units from as many states. But, unlike other such training
events, Patriot ’08 featured no observer-controllers or graders.
Exercise planners said that
gave commanders the ability to build the exercise to meet their unit
training needs. For the Soldiers of the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat
Team (IBCT), that resulted in additional training time to prepare for
their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
"We’re focusing on
making sure everyone is fully medically-ready," said Army Lt.
Col. Tom Bright, commander of the 48th Brigade Special Troops
Battalion (BSTB), 48th IBCT. "But when we’re not doing that we’re
focusing on new equipment training."
For Bright, whose unit was
recently stood up as part of the Army’s modular restructuring, it
also gave him an opportunity to work with his subordinate commanders
in order to flesh out the battalion’s new role.
"The challenge for me
is the BSTB is still a new organization within the Army," he
said. "What this gives us is an opportunity to pull all the
leadership and the Soldiers together and start to develop that synergy
between elements, so we can make the BLT instead of having bacon,
lettuce, tomato and toasted wheat bread. Now, it’s going to be the
And for others, making that
sandwich meant a shift in how they operate.
After returning from Iraq
in 2006, the 48th IBCT transitioned from being a heavy, mechanized
brigade with M2 Bradleys and M1A1 Abrams tanks to a light infantry
"We were always
cruising around in M113s (armored personnel carriers)," said Army
Staff Sgt. Bryan Neal, a squad leader and combat engineer with Company
A, 48th BSTB, 48th IBCT.
"And then when we were deployed to Iraq
we had Humvees — up-armored Humvees" with 50 cals (machine gun)
on top and we were riding around doing (route clearance) missions. Now
we have six, cargo-back Humvees so we move either by air or in those
vehicles and march everywhere."
For the exercise, Bryan and
his Soldiers trained with these new vehicles and methods, something
they normally couldn’t do at homestation. "The airlifts have
been a big help," he said. "It’s a lot of stuff that we
don’t normally have or can’t get our hands on, but with (the
exercise) we have all those assets here and we’ve definitely been
using them. It’s really been a plus to have all that. You train as
you fight, so that’s what we’re doing." Training as you fight for
some, however, meant training on skills that normally aren’t a part
of their skill set, such as medics’ training and calling in
"What (the unit
leadership) wants to do is cross-train everybody," said Spc. Paul
Cunningham, a combat medic assigned to the 148th Brigade Support
Battalion (BSB). "They always told us
to learn the different weapons because you never know " you could
be the one who has (to use it)."
And for the medics of the
148th BSB the exercise also gave them a chance to refresh skills more
closely related to their medic duties. As part of a three-day mass
casualty exercise, the medics treated incoming patients at an aid
"As medics, we’re
trained on the aid station stuff, but they trained us more to be with
the infantry," said Cunningham. "So, we’re out there with
the aid bag dealing with the patient and then moving them back to the
aid station. So for a lot of us, we’re familiar with this, but we
didn’t train in detail on it. So, it’s good training."
The exercise also gave the
participants the chance to train others at the exercise. For Neal and
his Soldiers in Company A, that meant training Air Guard personnel on
convoy operations and how to react to IEDs and ambushes.
"They’re going to be
mounted on vehicles with a gunner, (truck commander), driver all
riding down the road," said Neal. "They spot (an IED) and
call it in. They move out and then they have to react to an ambush. We
have (opposing forces) out there with blanks, pyro, smoke; the whole
nine. Once they get through the ambush, they get struck with an IED.
We have IED simulators that will throw up a huge fireball right next
to the vehicle."
And according to the Airmen
who went through it, the experience was one many wouldn’t soon
forget. Though, for some, the toughest part was using the radio.
"We’re watching as
people are coming at us and firing at us and I still have to call in
(on the radio) and stay calm and just talk to the (higher
headquarters)," said Airman Vanessa Wilson, a personnel clerk
with the 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard. "I
felt it was exciting because I’ve never done this before and it was
exciting because it gives you just a little bit of a taste of what you
may have to do if you get deployed."
But Wilson did take away
one thing from the experience. "When we came back and
(the trainers) gave us our constructive criticism they said
"well, you probably should have told (explosive ordnance
disposal) where you were located." "Now, next time I’ll
know in order for (EOD) to find where the IED is, that I probably
need to tell them where I am. So, you learn from it.
(Soucy is with the Army National Guard Bureau
Public Affairs Office.)