FORT PICKETT, Va. –
For three grueling weeks, 25 U.S. Army National Guard and Reserve Soldiers from across the nation trained together at Fort Pickett. At the ranges and across the training areas, they all shared a common goal: earning the iconic blue cord that comes along with the 11B Infantryman military occupational specialty. The Soldiers were there for the 11B Infantry Transition Course, held July 10-31, 2021, by cadre assigned to 1st Battalion, 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute.
Each Soldier who attended the course came with their own unique background. Many came with experience in other combat arms career fields, but many did not. The goal of the training, according to Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Lehmer, the course’s senior instructor, was to level the playing field and bring all Soldiers up to a basic level of proficiency.
“We’re taking Soldiers who are in other MOSs, non-infantry Soldiers, and turning them into infantrymen,” Lehmer said. He described the course as being broken into unofficial phases. First, it’s all about weapons.
“We cover all the weapons that they would see in a traditional infantry unit,” Lehmer said, explaining that many Soldiers come to the course without a lot of weapons experience. Cadre work with the students to get them comfortable and confident on a variety of weapons and they build onto the training from there. “Once we are comfortable with them handling guns, and they’re comfortable handing guns, then we move them more into their battle drills.”
The final step, Lehmer said, is clearing buildings, which requires them to put all the pieces together and work effectively as a team. They don’t leave the course as experts, that takes more than three weeks, Lehmer said, but they do leave with a solid knowledge base that their home units will then build upon.
Spc. Abdulraheem Weli, assigned to the Georgia National Guard and originally from Iraq, was already an 11C Indirect Fire Infantryman when he came to the 11B course. At his unit, he said he often found himself doing the work of an 11B.
“I chose to develop myself and my skills as an 11B, while I remain as an 11C,” Weli explained, saying the training would allow him to be more capable and adaptive when it comes to fulfilling the needs of his unit. Some of what he learned at the course was new, but much of it was familiar. The training environment, he said, allowed him the chance to further develop those skills and he said he appreciated how straightforward the training was. “This course has been one of the best experiences that I’ve had personally. It was straight to the point.”
Staff Sgt. Christopher Olivares, assigned to the Texas Army National Guard, said he’d spent his career in support roles, mostly supply, and wanted to transition to the infantry in order to continue to progress in the National Guard while enjoying the stability of staying in his current unit. He was familiar with some of what was covered in the course, but a lot of it was new.
“I’ve been supporting the infantry for the last 10 years, I’ve always been in a support role,” Olivares said. He said he was impressed with the “wealth of knowledge” shown by the cadre and the opportunity to refresh some skills he hadn’t used in many years. “That’s what I enjoyed the most, the instructors and meeting all these new guys from all over the United States.”
Like Olivares, Staff Sgt. Crystal Castaneda, a U.S. Army Reservist from California, came to the course to help with career progression. She was already serving in the field artillery, but was having a hard time getting a seat for career development courses. The only other career field she was interested in was the infantry.
“I’ve learned a lot of new things, had a lot of fun, it’s very active,” Casteneda said. She said her favorite part of the course was all the weapons training and she said she was thankful for the varied experience the cadre brought to the course. “The instructors helped out so much and they all have different experiences, so listening to their teaching ways and how one instructor does one way and the other does it this way, it’s very interesting how there’s so many ways to do one thing.”
The culminating event for the course required students to put all they had learned together to assault and clear a village. Sgt. Ethan Allen, assigned to the Virginia Army National Guard and a former Marine, said that was his favorite part.
“I love doing the urban stuff like this,” Allen said. “It’s fun to get back in the swing of that.”
Lehmer praised the students for their ability to meet the often-challenging course requirements, and said the class was a good one.
“It’s been really good, this is the first class that we’ve ever seen were they all passed land nav first time go,” Lehmer said, explaining that they also qualified on their weapons the first time. This, he said, helped alleviate some of the pressure on the schedule by eliminating the need to re-test students.
“Overall, they have been great,” Lehmer said.