JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J., – The sound of twin-engine rotor blades slicing through the air and the sight of soldiers occupying their objective after exiting a CH-47 Chinook helicopter marked the beginning of the 99th Regional Support Command’s five-day annual training event.
“Operation Checkerboard” kicked off as approximately 170 soldiers from the 99th RSC’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 78th Army Band, 94th Army Band, 198th Army Band, 319th Army Band and 380th Army Band were airlifted to Range 85 to begin a day of training that included exercises culled from the Army’s Full Spectrum Operations Mission Essential Task Lists.
“To get a chance to fly on a helicopter and land in a tactical area through an air insertion – that’s stuff you see on TV,” said Maj. Kevin Branch, commandant of HHC, 99th RSC. “It was a great training event because it really jacked up the level of adrenaline in these soldiers by taking it to the next level.”
Branch was able to elevate this event due to the amount and types of training his unit conducted during the past year.
“On our 2011 yearly training schedule, we developed a training strategy where we built in the Army Warrior Tasks throughout the year,” Branch explained. “We’ve included individual movement techniques, all types of tactical training, troop leading procedures, operation orders, medical training, etc., and we took all those events that we learned throughout the year and compiled them into one culminating event – a company force-on-force exercise.”
This force-on-force exercise involved splitting the soldiers into two groups – attackers and defenders – with the former preparing their assault strategy while the latter fortified their position.
“The training objective was to move into tactical positions by helicopter,” explained 1st Sgt. David Gallman, first sergeant of HHC, 99th RSC. “Alpha Company was going to do a defend mission at Range 85, then we helicoptered Bravo Company in to do a force-on-force attack against Alpha Company.”
Alpha Company occupied several shipping containers arranged to represent a small town, while Bravo Company utilized the surrounding forest to mask their approach. Once the assault began, the blank rounds fired from M-16 rifles and M-9 pistols crackled like popcorn as the two sides put their past year’s training to the test.
Branch said the soldiers passed the test on effort and enthusiasm, but admitted that work still needed to be done to raise his troops’ proficiency level in some of the FSO METs.
“We have to do a better job of reinforcing the training,” Branch said. “Even though we have a good strategy that teaches everything, we have to make sure our soldiers are sustaining what we teach them.”
“There are two things that I want to get out of this event – I want to have a safe event where no one’s hurt or injured, and I want these soldiers to have fun,” Branch explained. “It’s an opportunity to bring in all the soldiers of the 99th RSC in one place, under one guidon, and develop that esprit de corps.”
Although the training didn’t live up to every expectation, Branch was able to meet his intent based on some of the soldiers’ reactions to the training.
“It was good training, especially for the soldiers who have not experienced this before,” said Sgt. 1st Class Cynthia Caballero, a finance NCO with the 99th RSC. “It kind of showed you where your weaknesses are and what your strengths are.”
“Encountering the enemy was probably my favorite part of it, because that’s when all the training that you have developed over the years will come into play,” she added.
“I thought the exercise was great, getting out there and soldiering,” said Spc. Shawn Mills, 94th Army Band.
“Operation Checkerboard” will continue through, Aug. 14, and is scheduled to include events such as weapons training and qualification, first aid training, cultural awareness training, a chaplain spirituality run and picnic.
The 99th Regional Support Command acts as a “virtual installation” that provides world-class Base Operations support to over 50,000 Army Reserve soldiers, 400 units and 300 facilities for the entire Northeast Region from Maine to Virginia for the Army Reserve in order to give our warrior-citizens and their families the finest care, support, services and training.
To see more photos from this event and to learn more about the 99th RSC, visit: