By Staff Sgt. Mark Turney
Spec. Mark Case lays covering fire for his battle buddy during lanes training as the 1st and 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment conduct Annual Training 2004 at Fort A.P. Hill, VA. This lane tested the ability of each two-man team to move under fire toward an objective. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Turney, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office) Click HERE to see more photos.
After a long series of successful real-world missions, the Soldiers of 1st and 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment were back in the woods of Fort A.P. Hill for Annual Training this summer. Despite facing high humidity and temperatures in the upper 90s, these Soldiers were glad to be once again maneuvering in field training environment and gathered around sand tables preparing for infantry missions.
“Because of our other real world missions, we’ve gotten away from putting soldiers in the woods,” said Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1 Battalion 116th Infantry First Sgt. Vince May, “We’ve been used in so many other roles that with this AT we are bringing our soldiers back to the basics.”
Since 2000, members of May’s unit have been deployed to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah to help provide site security; acted as guards at local airports following Al Qaeda’s attacks on September 11th 2001; deployments to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and as Gate Guards at Fort Monroe.
It was because of these missions that the 1st Battalion re-instituted the Light Leaders and Light Fighters Courses for this year’s AT. “The concept of the Light Leaders/Light Fighters course has been around since the Division was established,” said May, “It had to be put on the back burner when we started getting real phone calls.”
The coursework for the Light Leaders/Light Fighters is designed to take both the leaders and lower enlisted back to those lessons learned at the infantry school Advanced Individual Training. Coursework included basic survival, reacting to indirect/direct fire, individual and team movement while under fire, basic patrolling and setting ambushes, rappelling and basic marksmanship plus many others.
“We got to shoot the M16, M249 and as many AT4’s as we wanted,” exclaimed Spec. Mark Carter, of B Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry.
For the first week of AT, the units were broken up into leaders and fighters. Typically, leaders meant squad and platoon leaders including officers, and the fighters consisted of the lower enlisted ranks. Mornings saw the leaders sitting in classes taught by a hand picked cadre; afternoons had the leaders training the light fighters and the evening saw the hard learned lessons put into practice until late in the evening.
After years of deployments and constant change, many of these soldiers had never worked together before so teamwork was emphasized on all levels of training. “These are infantry soldiers at their finest,” said May, “They are like sponges waiting to soak up all this knowledge and they are beginning to come together as a group. They are getting plenty of training and little sleep.”
“This is my third AT and this is by far the most hardcore one yet. I’ve never been in a helicopter before,” said Carter after being airlifted to Camp Cooke to officially begin the field training portion of the AT. “This was awesome,” exclaimed Carter through a deep smile. “We’ve definitely been occupied with a lot to do.”
Of the hard training and adversity endured throughout the training 29th Division Command Sgt. Maj. Sammy Herron said, “We all wear the Army uniform so we know things aren’t always going to go smoothly. That’s where this training is important. It teaches each of us to adapt to our environments.”
In an environment that stressed learning to be leaders and better soldiers, this Annual Training can best be summed up in the words of Herron, “That’s our strength, adaptation and overcoming adversity.”