Oct. 6, 2011

Incident Response Force better prepared after annual training

By Cotton Puryear   
Virginia Department of Military Affairs

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Soldiers in the Virginia National Guard’s Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Brigade Combat Team are better prepared to act as the state’s Incident Response Force after completing their annual training at Fort Pickett Sept. 10- 24. The Soldiers were able to focus on a number of qualifications required for the response force and also worked on turning their combat experience from Iraq into the necessary skills needed for possible missions in Virginia, while at the same time maintaining proficiency for their federal mission.

 

Soldiers of  Companies A and B, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Brigade Combat Team train on tree removal using chain saws during annual training Sept. 15 at Fort Pickett, Va. The Soldiers may be called up on state active duty to remove trees in the event of a natural disaster. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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“Our focus for annual training was on individual and squad level skills,” said Lt. Col. Allan Carter, commander of 1st Battalion. “We looked at the skills we need for our state mission and the skills we need for our federal mission, and where those two intersected we made our priority.”

As the IRF, Soldiers from 1st Battalion are one of the first units called when the Virginia Guard conducts Defense Support to Civil Authorities missions in the Commonwealth. Right after their drill weekend in February 2008 welcoming Soldiers back from a year of duty in Kosovo, more than 100 Soldiers went on state active duty to assist with the firefighting efforts in Southwest Virginia. Soldiers from the battalion also geared up to provide support in anticipation of Tropical Storm Hanna in early September 2008. Approximately 250 Soldiers assisted the Secret Service with the operation of security checkpoints along the President Obama inauguration parade route. The battalion came off IRF duty due to their federal mobilization from January to August 2010 and resumed the mission May 1 of this year.

At the end of annual training, the battalion has nearly 400 Soldiers qualified with their individual weapon, more than 375 licensed on Humvees, more than 100 qualified as Combat Lifesavers and nearly 30 certified on chain saw operations, Carter said. In addition, Soldiers conducted unarmed disarm and detention techniques with the Virginia State Police.

 

Soldiers from the Lexington-based Company B, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Brigade Combat Team train on military operations in urban terrain Sept. 20 at the Fort Pickett MOUT village. The Soldiers exercised their infantry specific warrior skills that can be used for both state and federal missions during their two week annual training period. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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Carter explained that all these qualifications and certifications are critical to the IRF mission. If the governor orders Virginia Guard personnel to perform an armed security mission, only Soldiers qualified with their personal weapon are allowed to be on duty, only licensed drivers are allowed to transport personnel and equipment and only certified operators are allowed to use chain saws.

Over the two weeks of training, the Soldiers conducted a number of live fire ranges for individual and crew served weapons, and they also conducted squad-level training on security patrols, operating traffic control points and operating pedestrian and traffic entry control points. The battalion staff also conducted a 72-hour field training exercise to focus on their mission command skills.

The battalion had about 350 Soldiers on the ground out of their normal assigned strength of about almost 700. Soldiers in college were given he opportunity to conduct an alternate annual training in May with Task Force 183 as they prepared for deployment, and the battalion’s Christiansburg-based Company C is currently deployed with Task Force 183 in Iraq.

The battalion has been working to recover and reset from their federal active duty tour that ended in August 2010 and has also been working to turn combat experience into skills that can be used in the state. Between 60 and 70 percent of the battalion has combat experience, sometimes from two or three deployments, Carter estimated.

 

Soldiers from the Bedford-based Company A, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Brigade Combat Team conduct live fire training on the Fort PIckett Urban Assault Course Sept. 19. The Soldiers are at Fort Pickett for their two-week annual training. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Department of Military Affairs)

Click HERE to see more photos on Flickr.

“They mature very quickly,” Carter said. “They have a better understanding of how to lead troops and don’t get easily flustered. We are head and shoulders above where we were 10 or 20 years ago. They gained valuable real world combat experience over there, and now they have brought it back here, and we are reinforcing how it can be applied to the state mission.”

The combination of combat experience and training results in a force better prepared to serve in the state mission. “I have full confidence in putting them on the street here in Virginia, and I can trust them to know what to do and that they will do the right thing. We just tell them what we want done, and we can watch them make it happen.”

The focus on DSCA tasks took place across the entire 116th BCT, not just with the IRF, explained Col. John Epperly, commander of the 116th Brigade Combat Team (Rear Detachment). “We teamed with the U. S. Forestry Service to do chain saw training so we will be ready to handle those missions in the coming months with winter storms, we spent a lot of time beefing up our Combat Lifesavers so we have at least two per squad or section and we did a lot of driver training.”

Epperly explained that one of the lessons learned is that while Soldiers have received a great deal of training on driving the vehicles themselves, not as much attention had been paid to driving while hauling a trailer.

“These are very heavy trailers that have their own dynamics, and some of our drivers weren’t prepared for that,” he said. “We spent a great deal of time retraining and relicensing our drivers not just to handle the prime movers, but also driving with the trailers on a variety of terrain so we can move on the roads safely.”

The driver training is another example of the overlap of skills sets between the Guard’s state and federal missions. “They key thing is that we have come out of AT better prepared to do not just our tactical or federal mission but also our DSCA mission for the state,” Epperly said.

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