FORT PICKETT, Va. –
“Conducting a full raid on a village with a helicopter, that’s hard to beat,” said Sgt. Dexter Whitten, an Indiana National Guardsman enrolled in the 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute’s Infantry Advanced Leaders Course. Together with more than 30 of his classmates, Whitten watched as four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters approached March 19, 2018, and landed in the Fort Pickett field in front of them. The aircraft, flown by Soldiers assigned to the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, were there in support of course’s culminating event, a raid on one of Fort Pickett’s villages.
“The whole course has built toward this,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Wesley Runion, manager of the ALC course. He said the Soldiers had spent two-and-a-half weeks working on combat orders, marksmanship and other skills designed to prepare them for leadership roles at the squad and platoon level. As the Soldiers worked through the course, completing operations orders and field training exercises, they received pieces of intelligence related to their final mission.
Armed with weapons and ammunition, their faces smeared with camouflage paint, the infantryman loaded the helicopters just before they lifted off, heading for the final obstacle on their way toward ALC graduation.
“This course teaches them to be a leader that improves their unit as a whole,” explained Runion. “Coming out of this course, they’re better leaders and better NCOs.”
As soon as the wheels of the aircraft touched down in Fort Pickett’s maneuver training area, the helicopter doors slid open and the infantryman jumped out and hit the ground, forming tight half circles of security on either side of the aircraft.
“I haven’ been to very many Army schools, but this is definitely the top class, better than anywhere else I’ve ever been, hands down,” Whitten said.
Once the helicopters lifted into the air, the Soldiers ran toward the wood line and headed toward their objective, the Combined Arms Collective Training Facility. Once close, they set up a secure perimeter and conducted a leaders recon, inching their way closer to the village they were about to raid.
Finally, it was time to go. The Soldiers picked up their weapons and pushed forward, moving through the woods to the edge of the wood line when, suddenly, shots rang out from a berm nearby. The infantryman launched into action, returning fire and popping a canister of yellow smoke to conceal their movement toward the protective cover of a nearby building.
“This current mission, this air assault and raid is my favorite so far,” said Sgt. Elliott Scott, of the North Carolina National Guard.
The Soldiers moved through the village, clearing rooms, destroying enemy combatants and yelling directions and information to one another, pointing out enemy positions and working together to secure buildings. Finally, they captured their HVT and moved out of the village, popping more smoke as they went and racing toward the relative safety of the wood line.
Cadre called the end of the exercise and the Soldiers made their way back to village for a final after action review, to discuss what went right and what they could have improved.
“This is a really great class and we’ve got a great group of guys,” Runion said. “The experience levels vary, but we’ve got a good core group of guys who have helped to facilitate excellent training.”
Two days later, the Soldiers officially completed ALC and the National Guard Soldiers who had traveled to Virginia from states including Washington, Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina and Georgia headed back home.
“It’s been a long two-and-a-half weeks full of early mornings and late nights, but it’s been fully worth every second we’ve been here,” Scott said.