National Guard Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment, 86th Brigade Combat Team, are in the midst of a large training exercise on Fort Drum ranges in preparation for possible future deployment.
The National Guard operates under the Army Force Generation Model, a five-year cycle that prepares Soldiers for deployment, when necessary, during the fifth year of the cycle.
The training that members of the 1-101st Field Artillery Regiment are conducting this week is a vital part of helping them to prepare for success in the fifth year of this rotation.
“We’re in our fourth year of the ARFORGEN model,” said Lt. Col. James Yates, commander of 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment. “We’re prepping for our rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk. It’s going to be an exciting, interesting, demanding exercise next year in Louisiana in June. So, we’re taking this time to really get set and get the team ready for that training.”
The “Green Mountain Peak” training on Fort Drum began in late July with a 10-day command post exercise. The remainder of the battalion then arrived at Fort Drum and began a series of live-fire exercises.
“We’re working on really training platoon and battery operations,” Yates said. “We’re also having our platoons go through a series of simulated lanes through the (Exportable Combat Training Capability) program, focusing on field artillery tactical movement, battery defense and a number of other trainings.”
The XCTC program was designed to provide combat training for National Guard Soldiers either at their home station or at a regional station. The intent is to provide intensive combat training, while minimizing the length of time that National Guard Soldiers must spend away from their homes and jobs.
The 1-101st Field Artillery Regiment, with several batteries and battalion spread across the New England region, chose Fort Drum for its close proximity and its ample training space.
“Fort Drum has a great training area with a large impact area,” Yates said. “It allows us to really train our Soldiers to the optimal level, take advantage of the training and maneuver space, as well as get back to the basics and train and build our skills on field artillery.
“Having this fairly rugged terrain to work through and train on is very valuable from a mission perspective,” he added.
The close proximity of Fort Drum also means that Soldiers of the 1-101st Field Artillery Regiment will spend more time training and less time traveling, an important piece in helping to minimize the effect on their Family life and decrease time spent away from work. Yates explained that this is especially important, as demands on National Guard Soldiers have greatly increased in the past 10 years.
“This is the new National Guard,” Yates said. “We’re a very mission-focused operation with a lot of work to do. It’s almost a second full time job for a lot of these (Soldiers). I cannot even stress enough (their) professionalism and competence.”
In addition to performing their own battery defense and tactical movement training, the 1-101st FA will provide indirect fire in support of other 86th BCT Soldiers who are currently training on the ranges.
“The infantry and the (cavalry units) that are out doing ‘move to contact’ (exercises) for XCTC program – we’re actually going to provide them with indirect fires to support these live-fire ranges when they need it,” Yates said.
Although most of the training will be completed during daylight hours, the 1-101st FA will conduct some night-fire training as well. While Yates recognized that the noise created by night-fire exercises may be bothersome, he stressed they are a necessary facet of field artillery training.
“Night fire provides us the opportunity to hone our skills using illuminating rounds as well as our tactical IR (infrared) observation devices,” Yates said. “These are skills that we really need to hone in order to be effective in combat missions.”
Training on Fort Drum’s large ranges facilitates a much more realistic training scenario, as it allows all components of the field artillery team to work together in a coordinated combat scenario, said Capt. Joseph Blume, commander of A Battery, 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment.
It allows forward observers to hone their skills in identifying targets and communicating with the fire direction center. Soldiers within the FDC gain valuable experience in using the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System, a computerized program for digitally calculating the precise location and trajectory of rounds. Gunnery teams get to practice working as a unit, and all three components learn to work as a cohesive team.
Six batteries lined the parameter of the hardened artillery site field Thursday, as they practiced working as a unit to prepare M-119 Howitzers to fire 105 mm rounds. The gunners lauded Fort Drum’s artillery range, as it allowed them ample opportunity to hone their combat skills.
“This is my first time at Fort Drum, and I couldn’t be happier with the facilities we have here as compared to other places that we’ve trained,” said Spc. Adam Ayer.
“This is a larger training facility than we are used to,” he continued. “When you can adjust and change, it is a more realistic combat situation. So when it comes time to go overseas and really work on our (military occupational specialty) and our skill set, we are better prepared.”