Fort McCoy News Sept. 23, 2016

Soldiers react to 'austere' environment at CSTX

BY SGT. 1ST CLASS CLINTON WOOD
84th Training Command

Combat Support Training Exercise (CSTX) 86-16-03 was the third and final CSTX of the year for the 84th Training Command.

The command, headquartered in Fort Knox, Ky., is following suit on the Army's shift of not preparing for desert warfare as it has done for the past 14 years, instead focusing on preparing units to deploy anywhere in the world.

Instead of having thousands of Army Reserve, active-duty, and National Guard Soldiers occupy established forward-operating bases (FOBs) spread throughout Fort McCoy's 60,000 acres, Soldiers were instructed to move to the wood line to pitch their own tents and dig fighting positions.

A Soldier assigned to the 327th Engineer Company, 397th Engineer Battalion, 372nd Engineer Brigade, 416th Theater Support Command, directs his squad to move up in a complex attack during Combat Support Training Exercise 86-16-03 at Fort McCoy in August.
A Soldier assigned to the 327th Engineer Company, 397th Engineer
Battalion, 372nd Engineer Brigade, 416th Theater Support Command,
directs his squad to move up in a complex attack during Combat
Support Training Exercise 86-16-03 at Fort McCoy in August.
Photo by
Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Wood

So what did Soldiers think of these living conditions? In order to take a shower at one Tactical Assembly Area (TAA), Soldiers walked a mile in roughly 40 pounds of military gear, including their weapon, advanced combat helmet, and load-bearing vest full of a hundreds of rounds of blank ammunition.

Pvt. Austin Stachina, a bridge crew member who has been in the U.S. Army Reserve for 10 months and is assigned to the 652nd Engineer Company, said the experience was fun.

"I think it is a lot better for us than staying indoors and living the easy life," said Stanchina, who is studying to become an electrical line technician.

This collective training exercise wasn't designed to be easy; it was designed to prepare units for operational deployments. Soldiers were given a three-week sample of what that experience would be like. They reacted to multiple attacks by an opposing force (OPFOR); performed different Army Warrior tasks; dined on plenty of Meals, Ready to Eat; and took shelter from several downpours in tents.

Stanchina added that he thought he brought something to the fight. Since he graduated from One-Station Unit Training in March, he was more familiar on how to react to OPFOR attacks than some of his fellow Soldiers.

Staff Sgt. Brandon S. Wertz, a full-time training noncommissioned officer for the 327th Engineer Company located in Onalaska, Wis., shared his thoughts.

"I think this exercise really kind of pushed them and pushed the envelope on them to find out what they are really capable of doing," said Works, who served as an infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division and deployed twice to Afghanistan.

Spc. Andrew Hrabe, a combat engineer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 397th Engineer Battalion, Eau Claire, Wis., also deployed twice to Iraq. He noted that he spent his first deployment in hard-stand buildings and his second in tents.

"So, I am kind of used to it," said Hrabe, of the living conditions.

U.S. Army Soldiers with the 47th Combat Support Hospital, 62nd Medical Brigade, set up a tent during Combat Support Training Exercise (CSTX) 86-16-03 at Fort McCoy, Wis., Aug. 6.
U.S. Army Soldiers with the 47th Combat Support Hospital, 62nd Medical
Brigade, set up a tent during Combat Support Training Exercise (CSTX)
86-16-03 at Fort McCoy, Wis., Aug. 6.
Photo by Spc. John Russell. Bonus
photo, not in print edition

Mother Nature made sure to expose the Soldiers to rain and heat, with several days climbing above the area's average of 83 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pfc. Joseph George, a combat engineer assigned to the 344th Engineer Company, found a way to adjust to the heat.

"Every time we get a good breeze, that's our air conditioning," said George. George is fourth-generation military, following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.

George, who has been in the Army Reserve for two years, had no problem adjusting to the conditions because he goes camping at least four times a year.

Spc. Breona Washington, an automated logistical specialist with the 383rd Quartermaster Company based in St. Charles, Mo., said the living conditions didn't bother her either.

"Just come prepared, and ensure you have everything you need," said Washington, who has served five years in the Army Reserve.

Cpl. Paul Eidam, a Marine Reservist assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, 4th Medical Battalion, Miramar, Calif., provided another insight.

"I am used to the desert, so honestly it is kind of neat to be out in the woods," said Eidam, who has been in the Marines for six years.

Eidam, a squad leader and one of the Marines who provided a quick-reaction force for a TAA on Fort McCoy's North Post, was impressed with how seriously the Soldiers defended their area.

"They are in their fighting holes almost all the time," he said. "We're surprised that they always seem to be in them. It seems like 24 hours a day."

It is safe to say that U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers have adjusted well to this new challenge.

Stanchina may have said it best, "Come with a good attitude, come out with a good attitude, and remember it is not over until you get back home."