June 30, 2005
By Staff Sgt. A. J. Coyne
BLACKSTONE, Va. -- Eighteen months of planning and training paid off for hundreds of Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers when they completed Warrior Lanes Training during their annual training June 13- 25 at Fort Pickett, Va.
The Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment had been honing both their individual and collective skills in anticipation of the grueling three-day exercise.
A series of squad-level tasks for Soldiers on today’s modern battlefield, Warriors Lane Training took place over the course of 72 hours. During that time, squads had 24 hours to complete the three lanes – movement to contact, a traffic control point and a presence patrol.
Each lane was allotted eight hours a day and, in the movement to contact, the Soldiers had to maneuver in the dark for two kilometers, through thick brush and trees, looking for the enemy. At the traffic control point, squads were charged with stopping and inspecting vehicles and reacting to any unplanned scenarios. In the presence patrol, the troops had to move through an urban area, interact with locals, and gauge their intentions.
“Movement to contact is probably the most physically difficult task but the presence patrol is the most emotionally difficult,” said Capt. Chris Samulski, commander of A Company. “Anything can happen at any moment. It’s like being deployed overseas and not knowing who the enemy is.”
“The presence patrol will be the toughest because the Soldiers will be required to solve problems in unusual ways,” added Lt. Col John Epperly, the battalion commander. “We will throw things at them that they haven’t seen in training.
“The mental intensity will make it tougher and every Soldier will face something new,” he added. “Because of that, it’s the most germane to current affairs.”
Preparation for Warrior Lanes Training stretches back a year and a half, according to Epperly.
“Eighteen months ago we received guidance from the division to prepare for this training,” he said. “We needed to make sure all squads and members can do individual and collective tasks.”
As part of the preparation for the training, his Soldiers went through individual skills training. Here each squad member focused on one skill and became an expert in that field, whether it was communications, demolition or marksmanship.
Most recently, a collective training phase prepared the Soldiers for their time at Fort Pickett. They practiced numerous tasks and were trained and evaluated on three lanes, each of which had between four to five tasks that the squads were required execute.
But as they trained both collectively and individually, Epperly’s Soldiers received valuable assistance from outside their battalion as well. The 224th Aviation Battalion provided aviation support for the troops despite gearing up for a future deployment, according to the commander.
“They did a wonderful job and our Soldiers began believing in this training once they saw we were getting resources like that,” he said.
Finally, after months of training, the Soldiers arrived at Fort Pickett, ready to show off their sharpened skills and improved teamwork.
Epperly’s intent is to have squads in his battalion that are more deployable and capable. In order to do that, the squads were stabilized from the beginning. In fact, most of the squads have been able to work together for more than a year, improving teamwork and increasing morale, he said.
Epperly doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that morale has been so high among his troops and that the retention rare increased by 25% over the past year. He attributes most of it to the steady training on vital skills the Soldiers know they will one day need.
“Last year we told the Soldiers what we were doing and why,” he said. “We explained that this training will help them as Soldiers. They bought into it and it’s been a great year.”