CAMP DODGE, Iowa –
Approximately 200 Soldiers assigned to the Virginia National Guard’s 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team spent two weeks in January training at the Sustainment Training Center at Camp Dodge, Iowa. Soldiers from Alpha, Bravo and Charlie Companies made the trek to icy Iowa, along with a few Soldiers and leaders from the Headquarters Company.
“We are here focusing on squad-level training proficiencies,” explained Lt. Col. Christopher Guillory, battalion commander for the 429th BSB. He said taking the battalion to Iowa aimed to get Soldiers out of their normal training routine.
“It gets old and redundant,” Guillory said. “This takes them out of their comfort zone and allows them to train on their individual proficiencies, build together as a squad and as a team in an environment that they’re not used to.”
In addition to providing Soldiers a new place to train, Guillory also praised the training environment at STC.
“One of the things I love about this opportunity to come out here, is that we fall in on a pre-existing set-up,” he said, explaining that the Soldiers were able to fall in on equipment and training environments and get to work almost immediately. For maintainers, that meant jumping right into fixing vehicles and equipment, sometimes picking up where previous units had left off, while Alpha Company, the unit’s distribution company, immediately took possession of a warehouse and began working live transactions.
“I want them to be proficient in setting up a command post, but this allows them to focus on the individual tasks that they need to focus on at the company and Soldier level,” Guillory explained. “This lets them focus on the training tasks, as opposed to setting up to do those tasks.”
Within the battalion, Alpha Company serves as a distribution company, and includes a transportation platoon capable of moving and delivering logistics packages, or LOGPACS, a water and fuel platoon, and a platoon capable of manning supply support activities, as well as a headquarters element.
“STC allows us to operate across all spectrums that the company can fulfill,” said Sgt. 1st Class Chris Harris, a truck master and readiness noncommissioned officer with Alpha Company, 429th BSB. “They’re able to basically fall in on a warehouse, for instance, and the transportation platoon falls in on an actual vehicle set and it allows them to operate almost in a deployment mode.”
STC is the only training site in the country where visiting units can work a live SSA facility. Upon arrival, Alpha Company Soldiers signed for the facility and all of its equipment and then got to work receiving, issuing and shipping inventory as well as managing the inventory.
Harris explained that only part of the training that wasn’t live, was the LOGPACS hauled by the transportation platoon. Otherwise, all Alpha Company operations were real-life.
“It’s been very busy, but I think overall the unit is getting its hands around what we have to do, what the standards are in the eyes of STC, and we’re getting better every day,” Harris said.
Bravo Company, 429th BSB is a maintenance company and includes an automotive section with Soldiers who conduct basic maintenance on vehicles, a base support section with Soldiers who specialize in working on weapons systems, ground support equipment like generators, allied trade specialists, and a communications and electronics section.
“They have everything you can imagine here, as far as what the Soldiers need, and resource-wise they have excellent instruction from the cadre,” said 1st Lt. Jeremiah Fowler, executive officer for Bravo Company. “It’s a great training environment because you have each of the companies doing their own tasks, but we’re all integrated at the same time, and it’s good to get that external evaluation as well from an outside source.”
Input from external cadre was an additional benefit of conducting the training at Camp Dodge, according to Guillory. “It’s very focused training and it’s different when you have an external observer/controller monitoring training, rather than the NCO you’re comfortable working with.”
Fowler emphasized the training value of STC and said the feedback from Soldiers had been excellent. He said training at STC allowed many of the Soldiers assigned to Bravo Company to train on equipment they might not get to see at home station during a typical drill weekend or annual training period.
“All the feedback we’ve gotten from our Soldiers is that they’re getting to perform all the duties and tasks that otherwise they might not get to do on a daily basis, so that’s been great,” Fowler said.
The 429th BSB’s Charlie Company, called Charlie Med, is made up of medical support personnel. During their time in Iowa, Soldiers assigned to Charlie Med trained at the Medical Sustainment Training Center, or MSTC, and also supported civilian providers at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa.
For the company’s combat medics, the training focus was on recertifying their skills.
“Every two years we have to recertify,” explained Sgt. Alexandra Hawes, a combat medic and administrative NCO in Charlie Med. “It goes over our basic skills and then the final day or days, we validate and go through a scenario to ensure we know our skills.”
Skills covered by the medics included treating a casualty for all manner of injuries, including burns, gunshot wounds, chest wounds, broken bones and missing limbs, as well as administering an IV.
Hawes explained that the training they get in Virginia is good, but that the MSTC site provided an additional element of realism to their training, one they can’t get at home, with state-of-the-art interactive dummies the medics are required to treat.
“It’s like a real person,” she said. “They talk, they have a pulse, their eyes move, so it’s just more realistic.”
The training received by Charlie Med Soldiers was exactly what the battalion commander was looking for in taking his troops to Iowa.
“I think the Soldiers enjoyed it, and it was different from what they were used to,” he said. “They’re getting the training value that we’re looking for out of this and it has allowed them to do things that they don’t normally get to do, especially the medics.”
In addition to Alpha, Bravo and Charlie Companies and the unit’s leadership, food service specialists from the battalion headquarters also attended the training in Iowa and served up two hot meals for the battalion every day.
“The food has been really good,” Hawes said.
In addition to cooking a new environment, the cooks also had to contend with different food vendors who challenged the food service team with different food supply methods.
“Ultimately, for some of these guys, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to come out here and train,” Guillory said of the battalion’s time in Iowa, explaining that many Soldiers within the battalion had never left the state for training. “This is great for retention and for the organization overall.”