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NEWS | June 10, 2024

Task Force St. Lo Soldiers complete Operation Immediate Response 24 in Czech Republic

By Staff Sgt. Jeff Clements Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Nearly 800 Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia National Guard Soldiers conducted annual training in May 2024 in the Olomouc Region of the Czech Republic as part of Operation Immediate Response 24, a sub-component exercise of STEADFAST DEFENDER 24. The units mobilized for IR 24 as Task Force St. Lo, under the command of the Virginia National Guard’s Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. 

“The overall mission was for the task force to assume command of a multinational element, including active duty and reserve units as well as National Guard,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Hoffman, commander of Task Force St. Lo. “U.S. Soldiers from Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Germany, also a civil affairs element from New England. The task was to converge on the Město Libavá military training area in the Czech Republic and conduct combined arms training with the Czech military.” 

Task Force St. Lo Soldiers conducted joint training with Czech military partners, participated in a Victory in Europe celebration, planned and executed a culminating training exercise and also were able to enjoy a cultural day, taking in some of the sights and experiences of the area. 

More than 90,000 troops, 50 ships, 80 aircraft, and 1,100 combat vehicles from all 32 NATO allies joined the STEADFAST DEFENDER 24 exercise to boost readiness across different command levels. DEFENDER stands for the Dynamic Employment of Forces to Europe for NATO Deterrence and Enhanced Readiness and the exercise showcased NATO's ability to deploy forces from North America and the UK to support Europe, emphasizing unity and interoperability. 

Lt. Col. Tom Bortner, Hoffman’s predecessor as 3rd Battalion commander, along with executive officer Maj. Leo Godunov, Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Mendel, and the entire battalion staff, as well as numerous members of the Virginia National Guard, accepted the responsibility for a mission of this scale and began planning months in advance, explained Hoffman. Coordinating the movement of materials and Soldiers for such a mission was an impressive accomplishment achieved in a very brief period, he said. 

Once on the ground, the task force immediately began work to accomplish the major tasks that lay before it in a very condensed amount of time. The first major event was participation in a Victory in Europe celebration held May 8, 2024, in the town of Hranice in the Olomouc Region of the Czech Republic.  

Hoffman spoke alongside Czech military officials while Soldiers of Task Force St. Lo stood together with their Czech Army counterparts during the ceremony. Following the formal event, American and Czech Soldiers manned static displays of various military weapons and vehicles while interacting with civilians who eagerly browsed the displays.  

Soldiers of the task force were able to take in some of the local sights between training with multiple “cultural days” being planned into the schedule to accommodate the nearly 800 U.S. troops conducting annual training there. 

“The Czechs provided transportation so we could go out and do cultural days,” Hoffman said. “So that all the Soldiers could experience a little of the Czech culture. We went to a city with a cathedral that's nearly 1,000 years old, and a castle from the 13th century. The Czechs are proud of their culture and their country. They were happy to share it with us.”

Members of the Charlottesville-based Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, were able to conduct two days of integrated training with the Czech 72nd Mechanized Battalion. They conducted fire and movement drills, weapons familiarization and cross-trained on various weapons systems at the Daskabát Range.  

The task force hosted multiple distinguished visitors over the course of the training mission to include Maj. Gen. Joseph A. DiNonno, 29th Infantry Division commanding general, and Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Hawley, 29th ID command sergeant major. DiNonno spoke with Soldiers and senior leaders, toured their area of operation, and presented challenge coins to Soldiers recognized for their efforts during training.  

Task Force St. Lo senior leadership participated in a distinguished visitor day hosted by the Czech Republic ArmyVelká Střelná Shooting Range. U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Bijan Sabet and Brig. Gen. Wesley Murray, the 29th Infantry Division's Deputy Commanding General-Support, were among the senior leaders attending the event.  

The joint live-fire demonstration included members of the 72nd Mechanized Battalion, 7th Mechanized Brigade, Czech Republic Army, along with members of the 1-150th Cavalry Regiment, West Virginia National Guard, 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team. West Virginia National Guard Bradley Fighting Vehicle crews maneuvered alongside Czech Republic T-72M4 tank crews, engaging multiple targets while performing armored battle drills during the exercise. 

Members of the West Virginia-based 119th Sapper Engineer Company and the Kentucky-based 577th Sapper Engineer Company conducted multiple demolition and breeching ranges, as well as training on various Soldier tasks throughout annual training.  

Soldiers from the Virginia Beach-based 1173rd Transportation Company, 1030th Transportation Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group, supported all aspects of the task force’s mission by participating in troop movement missions, conducting drivers training, and coordination and movement of essential task force equipment. 

The whole of the task force participated in a Culminating Training Exercise to finalize their portion of IR 24, along with members of the Czech Republic Army’s 72nd Mechanized Battalion, 7th Mechanized Brigade May 14, 2024, in the Olomouc Region of the Czech Republic. 

Battalion staff conducted planning and coordinated operations along with their Czech military counterparts. Engineers emplaced obstacles, infantry and engineer units defended positions against enemy breaching, and transportation units provided battlefield mobility during the exercise.  

“We had all these assets that we wouldn't normally have,” Hoffman said. “Our staff was forced to analyze a real-world scenario. If you have light infantry, transportation, counter mobility and mobility assets, along with a reconnaissance force, how would you employ those in a real-world scenario? So again, the task force worked with multiple forces, and this training exercise revolved around employing those real forces in a tactical, doctrinally sound manner.”   

This annual training proved to be an important and memorable event for members of Task Force St. Lo. STEADFAST DEFENDER 24 is the largest combined NATO exercise of its kind since 1988. 

“The fact that our Soldiers are able to play a small part in a generational exercise is very exciting,” Hoffman said.  “It's great to see our troops gain that experience because this is an annual training that they are going to come back home and talk about for the rest of their military career. For the individual Soldier, it just opens their eyes to a bigger Army, and the total Army concept.”  



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