NEWS | July 14, 2021

180th Engineers head to Louisiana for JRTC rotation

By Mike Vrabel | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

More than 50 Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group are supporting the Arkansas National Guard’s 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team during a training rotation July 10 - Aug. 3, 2021, at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana. 

“The training our Soldiers will be engaging in is extremely important for the Virginia Army National Guard to build and maintain readiness,” said Col. Paul Gravely, the Virginia Army National Guard G3 state operations officer. “The evaluations conducted at JRTC are important for units to test and review their training management processes, and gives them the opportunity to participate in an exercise at the BCT level in the most realistic environment available for training.”

“This is a huge opportunity for our Soldiers to get some real training not only on their military occupational specialty, but other warrior aspects such as communications, and seeing how they as engineers impact the battlefield,” said 1st Lt. Kevin Eddins, the 180th’s executive officer. “Our Soldiers are used to only working in one small area during our weekend drills and this training exercise will help them see how their skills fit in the larger picture.”

Once the training is under way, the 180th will support the 39th in a variety of ways, including helping build fighting positions and supporting tactical operations, according to Eddins, the 180th’s executive officer. 

“At this point, our main mission is to support the 39th IBCT by digging infantry fighting positions, vehicle-fighting positions, and fortifying the battalion-sized tactical operations center while in the field,” said Eddins. “We expect to fully utilize our digging assets the entire time to support the infantry, and are hopeful that we will be gainfully employed the entire time.”

In addition to those missions, the 180th will also employ their vertical capabilities to support both the JRTC training scenario and Fort Polk’s facilities. 

“Our vertical section will conduct maintenance on the operations in a so-called 'civilian zone,’ rebuilding critical infrastructure,” said Eddins. “Some of the projects include rebuilding Fort Polk range infrastructure that needs to be repaired. The main focus will be on carpentry projects and will be rebuilding subfloors, stairs, and repair walls to range buildings in a simulated civilian zone.”

To accomplish their mission sets, the 180th transported more than 30 pieces of heavy equipment via line haul to Fort Polk, including several bulldozers, excavators, Light Medium Tactical Vehicles, trailers and Humvees. The unit transported all of the equipment to Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett, where staff of the Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site helped load it onto trailers for line haul to Fort Polk. The line haul of equipment and movement to JRTC was coordinated and contracted by the Transportation Management Branch of the G4. 

“All of this wouldn't be possible without the MATES shop loading up all the line haul, thanks to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jacob White and his crew for their help,” said Eddins. 

As the training rotation approached, the unit was able to conduct significant training in preparation for their mission at Fort Polk. Eddins said that lead-up training was vital after several months of remote drills because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as law enforcement support missions kept them from practicing their engineer craft. 

“When restrictions finally began to lift this past spring, we made training happen by getting all our equipment to Fort Pickett and spending 10 - 20 hours operating at Landing Zone Castle over a period of two drills,” explained Eddins. “Overall it was definitely some of the best training our unit has been through over the last few years.”

Eddins is confident that the unit will use that training to successfully complete their mission in Louisiana. 

“Even though we a taking a minimum amount of soldiers, we will still be operating at maximum capacity for engineers,” said Eddins. “I know that they are capable and will rise to the occasion after overcoming so many obstacles to get here. In the future, this will definitely enable our unit to be a better engineer unit by giving our soldiers experience, camaraderie, and building teamwork. In the event that we are called for deployment, this will give some our younger soldiers serving in leadership positions the necessary experience to practice their leadership, especially under stressful circumstances.”