By Staff Sgt. Les Newport
76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
After months of training, thousands of Indiana National Guard Soldiers are just a few short miles from the border of Iraq ... and they are training. The 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team will deploy to northern Iraq to support counterinsurgency operations over the coming weeks, a mission Col. Courtney Carr, 76th commander, says they are ready for.
"We're a fully equipped and prepared combat team ready to support the fight with infantry brigade operations," said Carr.
Carr emphasized that he sees confidence in the BCT, also known as the Nighthawks, as he visited training sites near Camp Buehring, Kuwait, where convoy security and force protection companies are conducting training missions based on near real-time intelligence from Iraq.
On a recent visit, Carr grilled Capt. Kyle Baer on a recent training operations order for training: how many scenarios and iterations for each platoon, details of civilians-on-the-battlefield and counterinsurgency training, specific IED tactics, techniques and procedures of insurgents in recent weeks.
Baer assured Carr they we're getting all of that and more from ARCENT and from the unit his company will relieve. He said that since arriving in Kuwait his unit, A Co., 1-293rd Inf. Bn., is making the most of the resources and time: "Almost all of my NCOs have been here," said Baer, "and the younger guys are eyes-wide-open."
Baer said that training in an environment so similar to the environment his company will experience during the coming year was making a difference. Things they had only been able to talk about are now a reality. Coalition vehicles convoys, herds of camels and blustery wind-driven dust and sand have become part of their daily routine.
Carr related the experience of one company that moved to a firing range to simply check sight alignments on their weapons before continuing with training. When a dust storm blew up, the training became more about operating in a harsh desert environment. Carr said the company was able to complete the mission and came away with the confidence they could continue a mission regardless of conditions.
"You can see them adjusting their personal protective equipment, and they now understand the importance of having it," said Carr.
1st Sgt. Neal Gustin of New Haven, Ind. Has returned for a second tour, having served in 2003 during the initial invasion. Gustin said the training will not stop once missions begin.
"Training is always going to continue, it's the way we do business," said Gustin. "Prior to any mission we're always going to do our rehearsals and no matter what level of proficiency (we reach) we'll continue with that."
Gustin said that he stresses professionalism, even though he understands his unit has its own personal character. "They like to razz one another, let off steam, but they also know when it's time to focus on the mission."
Gustin said that communication skills will play an important part in keeping his Soldiers safe. "They're the ones out there running the missions, running the routes," said Gustin. "They're the ones (we count on) to know what looks right and what doesn't."
He said that when companies return from missions, they will be expected to back brief higher commands, but that the security teams will also be sharing that information amongst themselves, a practice he said is critical to maintaining situational awareness and saving lives.
Gustin said that much has changed since his last deployment and appreciates the time to focus on essential mission tasks before moving into Iraq.
"The difference is night and day, there has been so much development (of training areas and resources). We're making the most of our 'white time,'" said Gustin, referring to blocks of training time allocated to the companies. Training schedules are generally filled with color coded blocks that represent a demanding pace, white space is unit time.
Gustin says that training has till this point been directed from above, but the company has more of a say on where they want training to go. He said that it is a natural progression and part of his NCOs taking the lead on sound training practices.
"We're not going to reinvent the wheel," said Gustin. "Squad leaders are showing a high level of competence and senior NCOs have continued to grow."
According to Gustin, all good signs that the Nighthawks are ready to move forward and work toward a successful mission.