FORT PICKETT, Va. –
Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Staunton-based 116th Military Engagement Team, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team came together for three weeks of intensive training Feb. 15. – March 5, 2016, at Fort Pickett, Virginia, in preparation for their upcoming federal mobilization to Kuwait and Jordan.
“It went really well,” said Col. Todd Hubbard, commander of the 116th MET, on the team’s annual training. “Everyone was really motivated, everyone wanted to get out and do the Army tasks. We were all really excited to learn more about the mission and to get ready to deploy.”
While deployed, the 116th MET will work throughout the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula and Central and South Asia building relationships and rapport within the nations of those regions while exchanging information and promoting partner nation capability through military-to-military engagements. The approximately 25 Soldiers assigned to this team were pulled from units across the commonwealth to form the 116th Military Engagement Team, under the banner of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
The team’s annual training period began just as a light blanket of snow and ice covered several parts of the commonwealth, including Fort Pickett. Team members moved into their rooms, accomplished administrative tasks and traveled to their first meal together as a full team over crunchy, ice-covered snow.
From there, the team gathered in the classroom for the next several days where they received training that is required for deploying Soldiers on topics including resiliency, legal considerations, sexual harassment and assault prevention and media engagement techniques. Team members also participated in hands-on vehicle rollover and combatives training.
“I was pleasantly surprised with the diversity of the training events and the professionalism of the instructors,” said Maj. Jaycee Shaver, executive officer for the 116th MET. “It’s also good to get back to the basic soldiering skills and as we get higher up in the ranks and further away from some of the line units, we tend to miss out on some of those opportunities so it was a good chance to recharge and remember what it’s all about from a Skill Level 1 perspective, which is shoot, move and communicate.”
As the first week of training ended, Soldiers of the 116th MET learned how to keep themselves healthy during deployments and worked through the Combat Lifesaver Course, learning life-saving battlefield medical procedures, such as how to apply a tourniquet, treat a sucking chest wound and other common injuries.
CLS training culminated in a practical exercise in which Soldiers tested their skills in a simulated battlefield environment with blank rounds fired and smoke grenades thrown.
While the team is unlikely to encounter a situation where they have to use the skills learned in CLS, this training, along with the other training completed during the team’s annual training period, is a requirement for all deploying Soldiers.
“Whenever we deploy Soldiers in the Army, we want to make sure that they meet certain criteria, a certain baseline,” explained Master Sgt. John T. Rothmann, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 116th MET Soldiers going to Jordan.
“In order to standardize the training of all Soldiers leaving the United States, we train in basic soldiering skills prior to mobilizing.”
Once the Soldiers earned their Combat Lifesaver certification, they headed briefly back to the classroom for a quick refresher on land navigation skills and then conducted both mounted and dismounted land navigation.
Then, the team spent four long days training in the field, first qualifying on the M9 Pistol and sharpening their marksmanship skills. The Virginia National Guard’s Marksmanship Training Unit provided instruction on shooting techniques, giving guidance to newer shooters unfamiliar with the M9 and running all Soldiers through various drills designed to improve accuracy and confidence with the weapon.
“The non-standard advanced marksmanship training infinitely progressed our readiness and ability to accomplish our non-standard mission,” said Lt. Col. Mark Baush. “It gave those not comfortable with the weapon system a skill set that they can expand upon when we return that will serve them for the rest of their military career.”
Capt. Matthew Guyer, 116th MET member who will serve as a liaison officer, said the marksmanship training was one of his favorite parts of the training. “We got to do things outside the realm of what we normally do during weapons qualification, like shoot at bowling pins and metal targets that gave us immediate feedback. The pace of the training was quick – it was go shoot, grab ammo, come back, shoot again – there wasn’t stagnation or any sitting around and waiting.”
After marksmanship training, the 116th MET headed to Fort Pickett’s Cherry Village to train on Individual Movement Techniques, or IMT, that required the Soldiers to low crawl, high crawl and move tactically in pairs, teams and as squad-sized elements. The following day, the Soldiers were back at Cherry Village learning how to throw hand grenades and how to set up and work an entry control point.
At the start of the third and final week of training, trainers from the Army Culture Center visited the team and discussed cultural norms, behaviors and beliefs the 116th MET is likely to encounter while deployed, as well as lessons on the various languages spoken, how to effectively utilize an interpreter and other culturally relevant topics.
In addition to the required training events, Capt. Jose Cruz, who will deploy to Jordan and works as a head strength and conditioning coach at U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command when he’s not in uniform, coordinated several physical fitness events, including a road march, circuit training and yoga, that also served as team-building events.
“The importance and relevance behind conducting physical fitness activities as a team, first and foremost, is to build team cohesiveness,” Cruz explained. “Another reason we do it, is because it’s an essential part of being a Soldier and in other countries and cultures they view physical fitness as a critical piece of what it means to be a Soldier.”
In the final days of training, the 116th MET participated in a culminating exercise on the counter-IED lanes of Fort Pickett. There, Soldiers planned and executed a complex mission that required them to implement the lessons learned over the previous weeks.
After three weeks, team members were released for a short pass to spend time with their families before they head to Fort Hood, Texas, for an additional 30-45 days of training. After that, Soldiers will head overseas to begin their deployment.