CAMP DODGE, Iowa –
More than 30 Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the South Boston-based Alpha Company, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team traveled to Camp Dodge, Iowa, to conduct annual training June 5-18, 2022, at the Army National Guard Sustainment Training Center.
“Alpha Company is a traditional logistics company. We supply fuel, water and ammo,” explained Capt. Demetrius Hollis, Alpha Company commander. “Camp Dodge allows Soldiers to train specifically on their military occupational specialties and that’s something Soldiers have been asking for.”
“We’re so accustomed to going to Fort Pickett, this is a great opportunity to get away,” said 1st Sgt. Otis Brown. “We do great training there but this puts them in a different environment.”
In addition to a headquarters element, Alpha Company includes a transportation platoon capable of moving and delivering logistics packages, a water and fuel platoon, and a platoon capable of manning supply support activities.
Hollis, who was been in command for 24 months, said one of the biggest gripes from Soldiers is that they’re not able to do their specific job at home station.
“We’ll go to Fort Pickett and they’ll fire their weapons or go through certain types of training but they won’t get to learn their specific MOS,” he said. “At Camp Dodge they’re given the chance to train. The supply folks are here, the water dogs are on a mission, the 88Ms are given the chance to get on the road and they’re moving equipment from point A to point B, and Soldiers are here learning how to dispatch vehicles. Everyone’s getting a chance to train.”
“This is a great experience not only for the new Soldiers but also for the experienced ones,” Brown said. “We all can learn something new and we’ve learned a lot we can take home.”
While Fort Pickett provides great training opportunities, traveling to an unfamiliar location tests the unit in ways training in Virginia can’t.
“At Fort Pickett you know where everything is,” Hollis said. “Here, there’s that fear of the unknown and when there’s that fear, they pay more attention, they want to do a good job. Everyone is on their A game. They know they’re going to come out better Soldiers when they come out of this.”
One major difference is that when the unit travels to MTC they are often staying in the field.
“We’re pitching tents and pulling security,” explained Spc. Jacob Hughes, a Motor transport operator. “Here it’s more admin and performing missions. It’s the most amazing, helpful thing.”
“I like coming to different places, because at Pickett we’re in the field,” said Spc. Chuck Onuegbu, an ammunition specialist from Charlottesville, who has been in the unit for six years. “Here, I can do my job and focus on that, then go back to the barracks and come back the next day and do my job. In this environment I’m doing better with the things I was rushing with paperwork wise, which forms to fill out. It’s been a solid learning experience.”
It’s not just the location that provided a great training opportunity but also the STC staff and their methods.
“The staff here is watching you and giving you feedback in real time,” Hollis said. “Sometimes they’ll let you do the wrong thing over and over to see if you’ll adjust. Sometimes they’ll see if you can think on your own. They’ve been great to work with.”
“The staff here has been outstanding,” Hughes agreed. “If we mess up, they’ll show us the correct way to do it in a manner that’s effective. They’ll show us how to do everything but they won’t micromanage it. They don’t step in and do it themselves. They let you do it and experience it until you can do it 100% on your own.”
Spc. Allie Champion has only been in the unit for a year but this experience was very different for her compared to last year’s annual training.
“Coming here has given me the opportunity to learn my job and see what it’s like in an actual Army atmosphere,” the ammunition and stock accounting specialist said. “We’re learning so much from our instructor. It’s very enlightening for me.”
Because a number of the unit’s Soldiers were asked to deploy with other Virginia Army National Guard units over the past year, many of Alpha Company’s Soldiers had to step up and fill positions they wouldn’t normally fill and perform duties they wouldn’t normally perform, Hollis explained.
“Here, I’m in charge of more so I’m pushed out of my comfort zone,” Hughes said. “You never learn anything if you’re comfortable. I think coming here is a big step for me and a lot of the Soldiers. Coming here has been pretty phenomenal.”
With a number of Soldiers deployed and a number of younger Soldiers in the unit, the training also provided an opportunity to bring an already tight-knit unit even closer together.
“There are a lot of new people in the unit in the last few months,” said Spc. Kimberly Jackson, a water treatment specialist who has served in the unit for more than 10 years. “AT really gives you a chance to get more comfortable and get to know everyone.”
“The people in this unit are phenomenal,” Hughes, who has been in the unit since 2018, said. “We’re all a family. We all have a life outside of this but we’re all interested in each other’s lives. You need that kind of camaraderie to work efficiently and perform your best.”