July 28, 2011

TF 183 Soldiers validated for duty in Iraq

By Cotton Puryear      
Virginia Department of Military Affairs

CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. — Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard's Task Force 183 received their validation for federal active duty in Iraq July 28 after conducting their Culminating Training Exercise July 15 - 19 at Camp Atterbury, Ind. With their mobilization training complete, the unit will begin movement to Iraq to begin their mission of base defense and convoy security operations.


Command Sgt. Maj. Terry Gibbs, command sergeant major for Task Force 183, condcuts a pre-combat inspection on a convoy escort team during the Task Force 183 Culminating Training Exercise July 15 at Camp Atterbury, Ind. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Department of Military Affairs)

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Since the task force was alerted more than a year ago, most of the training has been focused on individual Soldier skills and crew-level battle drills. The CTE was the first significant collective training event where all the different elements of the unit came together where vehicle crews were put into squads, and squads were operating as troop and companies under the direction of the task force, explained Lt. Col. Bill Korsen, commander of Task Force 183.

“This is a great opportunity to take all the individual and crew building blocks of training and put them together into something that makes sense,” Korsen said.

Approximately 825 Soldiers from across the commonwealth are on federal active duty as part of Task Force 183. For convoy security missions, Soldiers are organized into Convoy Escort Teams responsible for safeguarding commodity trucks of fuel, food and other supplies. The logistical convoy they escort could have dozens of trucks and reach a length of many miles.

Much of the focus of the exercise has been on the planning and preparation that goes into an escort mission. Staff sergeants lead the CETs, and the mission provides a challenge that is much different from what many of them are used to, Korsen explained. Normally a squad leader can directly control all the men in his unit, but with this mission a squad leader could have several kilometers separating the members of his team and must rely on radio reporting to gain situational awareness.


Soldiers from Task Force 183 conduct a map rehearsal in preparation for a convoy escort mission during the Task Force 183 Culminating Training Exercise July 16 at Camp Atterbury, Ind. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Department of Military Affairs)

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Korsen was also able to integrate high-tech simulator training using the Close Combat Tactical Trainers from National Guard Bureau to provide an additional opportunity to expose squad leaders to the challenges they will face on their missions.

The CET commanders are expected to conduct a detailed mission analysis that incorporates the latest intelligence on potential threats, and then they organize their convoys based on the threats and the assets available like recovery vehicles, medical personnel and firepower. Once the plan is complete, the CET leader briefs the task force commander and receives feedback if he needs to adjust the plan.

Korsen said he was pleased with the performance of the staff sergeants in their role as CET leaders. “They are doing it very well,” he said. “If they weren’t, we wouldn’t put them on the road.”

Pre-combat checks and inspections are conducted at multiple levels, first by the truck commander, followed by the CET commander, then the platoon and troop/ company leadership. Finally, the task force command sergeant major conducts a final check to ensure the Soldiers have the equipment they are supposed to have for the mission.


A Soldier from Task Force 183 operates an entry control point during the Task Force 183 Culminating Training Exercise July 17 at Camp Atterbury, Ind. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Department of Military Affairs)

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“If the Soldier doesn’t wear the proper approved protective equipment like gloves, eye protection, and fire resistant uniforms we are risking their safety,” Korsen said. “The time to establish the standard is in training environment, not while Soldiers are conducting missions. We are establishing what right looks like now so we don’t have to play catch up later.”

Task Force 183 is made up of the three line troops and headquarters troop from the Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry, along with an infantry company and an engineer company from Fredericksburg and an infantry company from Christiansburg. Korsen said he felt like the units have all come together to bond as a single unit.

The task force staff had been training for two years prior to the start of the mobilization and was ready when they arrived at Camp Atterbury. The integration of the additional units began a year ago with company leaders attending meetings, conducting training during monthly drills and conducting two annual training periods as one organization. In the final months before the mobilization, the Soldiers were all being integrated into the task force training plan, battle rhythm and administrative tasks in an effort to ensure leaders had time to assess their Soldiers prior to entering active duty.

“When we got here, I felt like we were one team,” Korsen said.

Korsen acknowledged that deploying to Iraq now with the scheduled troop withdrawal at the end of the year has presented additional challenges for the mission. They key is training adaptive and resilient leaders, Soldiers and families.

“We don’t want to lose that edge of being focused on the task at hand, because if you sit back and get complacent, that’s when people get hurt,” he said. “But you don’t want to be too aggressive that we undermine what the military has worked nine years to achieve. We have to find the balance between the two. We need to keep our heads in the game, but not overstep the bounds of what we should be doing.”

As the question of whether or not unit might come home early, Korsen said they all understand that things could change. His message to Soldiers and families is to worry about things you can control, not the things that you can’t.

“You can’t control decisions on when U.S. Soldiers leave Iraq, but you can control what goes on in your truck, squad or platoon and making sure you are ready to do your part of the mission,” he said.

“The second we know, we will let our Soldiers and families know,” he said. “We will drive on with the mission until we are told to do something else.”

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