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    Big guns in Idaho: Oregon Army tank unit hones combat skills

    Day ends as tank live-fire begins

    Photo By 1st Sgt. Kevin Hartman | As the final daylight falls off the horizon, an Abrams M1A2 System Enhanced Package...... read more read more

    BOISE, ID, UNITED STATES

    09.04.2014

    Story by 1st Sgt. Kevin Hartman 

    115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

    BOISE, Idaho — Dusty grit, diesel exhaust and a cacophony of cannon blasts filled the air at the Orchard Combat Training Center (OCTC) as more than 500 Oregon Army National Guard Soldiers recently trained on their tanks, mortars and ground assault tactics. With 22 Abrams M1A2 System Enhanced Package (SEP) tanks, 38 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and enough mortars to shake the dirt out from under the high-desert tumbleweeds, the Oregon Soldiers with 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment trained for three weeks to increase their combat readiness.

    “Being at the Orchard Training Center allows leaders to get their tanks, their Bradleys and their crews and Soldiers with live-fire and tactical maneuver and practice those skills, so when and if it becomes time to use them, they are already trained, proficient and confident,” said Lt. Col. Brian Dean, commander of the 3-116th Cavalry Battalion.

    The Oregon citizen-Soldiers ate, slept and trained in the hot, sandy OCTC to dust off – literally at times – their combat skills and prepare for a rotation to the Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, scheduled for next summer. Dean said some of his troops have not deployed, and those who have did not use tanks in their deployed roles.

    “What I hope the troops learn here is confidence in their leaders, their equipment and themselves,” Dean said. “This is an opportunity to get out and practice as a team and really enjoy being in the Army and following the Army as a profession.”

    Training together for several weeks also has other benefits. Troops said the camaraderie and unit bonding was a big part of annual training.

    “You don’t want to deploy with a crew that doesn’t really like each other. You want to make sure you really have cohesion, and I think that’s one thing the National Guard really does well,” said Sgt. Eduardo Martinez, a tank gunner with C Company, 3-116th Cavalry Battalion.

    Tank and Bradley training is a series of scenarios designed to test the crew’s capabilities under pressure to navigate technical and mechanical errors. Staff Sgt. Brian Allender, the tank commander for Martinez’s tank, said a good team is what helps push through the stress.

    “This environment and these big guns going off just adds to the chaos,” said Allender. “We eat a lot of dirt out here ... a lot of dirt.”

    Allender, Martinez and their crew ended up shooting the highest score for the target range and for the entire battalion. Martinez said the experience is what makes being in the National Guard unique and fulfilling.

    “Who else gets to come out here and shoot big bullets, drive a machine this much, and go out and have a good time running around ranges?” Martinez added.

    While Martinez’s tank crew scored 955 out of 1000 to earn “Top Gun,” a Bradley crew also fired well and was named “Top Gun” in their category with a score of 988. Dean said watching the troops achieve such high marks was a highlight for the training.

    “The impressive part for me is that they continue to grow, even when they’re good and they’re meeting the standard, they just get better and better and better,” Dean said. “Anything I say about how difficult this is would be an understatement.”

    The armored beasts were not the only military forces training at OCTC. Mortar men with Detachment 1, Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) littered one range with craters. The team launched mortars from their armored Bradleys, zeroed in by their fire support comrades in Detachment 2 calling in the targets from an elevated observation point.

    “These guys here, this is what they know what to do. This is their bread and butter,” said 1st Lt. Joshua Shepherd, a fire support officer with Detachment 2, HHC.

    Shepherd said his Soldiers used the opportunity to hone their skills with the latest, cutting-edge optical technology to identify targets and call for fire.

    Across the makeshift battlefield, infantry Soldiers, coated with dirt and grime, crammed into the back of their armored troop carriers like sardines. Hip-to-hip, the Soldiers waited for the ramp to drop, signaling their turn at battle.

    “It’s an adrenaline rush when you’ve got tanks and Bradleys and armor meshing out here in the middle of nowhere. It’s a lot of fun,” said Staff Sgt. David Wahlstrom, a Bradley commander with 3rd Platoon, A Company, 3-116th Cavalry Battalion. “The training value out here is invaluable. This is where armor fights. Open terrain like this.”

    All of the training, however, would not be possible without the support of troops with HHC, as well as maintenance Soldiers with the 145th Brigade Support Battalion.

    “If it has wheels or tracks, we work on it,” said Sgt. Justin Daniel, a tank mechanic with F Company, 145th BSB.

    With tankers focused on qualifying, the mechanic team was busy ensuring the Abrams tanks and Bradleys were in fighting shape.

    “If they didn’t have us, the tanks couldn’t do their job,” said Spc. Samantha Brumley, also a tank mechanic with F Company.

    Keeping the tanks moving wasn’t the only vital support. Units also rotated around the training area to ensure Soldiers had their basic needs taken care of. One group with HHC delivered the most basic need to training troops – food.

    “If the troops don’t get logistical support they can’t shoot, they can’t move and they don’t want to move because they want to eat,” said Spc. Brandon Brummett, a supply specialist with HHC. “Without food, they don’t have energy to train or fight.”

    Lt. Col. Dean said this was the hardest, most extensive training specific to the battalion’s war-fighting function as tankers since the United States began counterinsurgency operations following the 9/11 attacks. He said his troops, whether training or supporting, moved together as one, well-oiled machine.

    “I couldn’t be more proud of the Soldiers and leaders of this battalion,” said Dean.

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 09.04.2014
    Date Posted: 09.04.2014 20:10
    Story ID: 141171
    Location: BOISE, ID, US 
    Hometown: BEND, OR, US
    Hometown: BOISE, ID, US
    Hometown: BURNS, OR, US
    Hometown: EUGENE, OR, US
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    Big guns in Idaho: Oregon Army tank unit hones combat skills