Training Pays Dividends for 101st Soldiers in Afghanistan
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Nov. 22, 2010 A rigorous training regimen the 101st Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team set into motion when it received short notice that it would deploy to Afghanistan as part of the troop surge is paying off –- and, two months into the deployment, it is showing no signs of letting up.
U.S. Army Spc. Jon C. Humphries and U.S. Army Spc. Christopher M. Tobin, combat medics from 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, use skills developed through training to teach Afghan National Army soldiers the proper way to check a casualty for bleeding during a class at Combat Outpost Munoz in Afghanistan, Sept. 27, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Luther Booth Jr.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Senior brigade commanders told reporters via videoconference last week from Afghanistan’s Paktika province they’re seeing the fruits of a nose-to-the-grindstone pre-deployment training schedule at their home station at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.
“I can’t think of anything we have done here yet that we haven’t trained for back at Fort Campbell or at JRTC,” said Army Lt. Col. Ivan Beckman, commander of the 4th Brigade’s Special Troops Battalion. He rattled off various types of missions his soldiers are conducting in the Regional Command-East area of Afghanistan: route-clearance, military intelligence, signal and Afghan national security force training, among them.
“We were very well-trained before we deployed here, and the training has really paid off,” Beckman said.
Army Col. Sean Jenkins, the brigade commander, recognized when he was notified in February 2010 of the upcoming deployment that he’d have to move his training plan into high gear. The brigade’s initial contingent of troops deployed within five months. When the brigade assumed operational control of Paktika province in September, Jenkins declared it ready to become the last combat brigade to arrive in Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama’s troop surge.
“We went through a very quick train-up” to prepare for the deployment, he said.
In addition to working with the Joint Readiness Training Center cadre to ensure the brigade’s mission rehearsal exercise conducted there in May built on his soldiers’ strengths and identified any shortcomings, Jenkins kept his troops focused on what he calls the “big six.”
It’s an extensive array of capabilities, Jenkins told American Forces Press Service, that he considers critical to battlefield success: physical fitness, marksmanship, battle drills, medical skills training, driving, and reflecting an area of Army-wide emphasis, resilience.
In addition, the brigade’s “Toccoa Tough” program, named for the storied unit that came to be known during World War II as the “Band of Brothers,” emphasized mental as well as physical resilience for soldiers as well as their families, Jenkins explained.
Two months into the deployment, Jenkins said these preparations are paying big dividends as his soldiers make regular contact with the enemy, sometimes operating at altitudes sometimes exceeding 9,000 feet.
“But we can’t rest on our laurels,” Jenkins said, emphasizing that the training continues during the deployment. “We have to learn every day, and we have to learn faster than the enemy.”
Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Santos called the deployment an opportunity to use their real-world experiences in Afghanistan to broaden on their training base. “We are a learning organization, and we continue to learn from what the enemy [does] to determine, ‘How can we do it better?’” he said.
Soldiers returning from patrols go through regular after-action reviews, discussing what they encountered, how they reacted, how it impacted the patrol and what lessons they learned that can apply to the next patrol, he said.
“When we deployed, the training didn’t stop,” Santos said. “It has continued day in and day out to ensure our soldiers are ready to meet anything out there. We are going to meet that challenge head on.”
Army Lt. Col. David Womack, commander of the 506th Infantry Regiment’s 1st Battalion, said returning for a second deployment to the same region gives the unit a big head start in shortening the learning curve.
“If you know the terrain as well as the enemy does, and we learn it better every day, it makes us more lethal,” he said. “It levels the playing field. And at some point, we don’t want it to be a level playing field. We are all about taking every unfair advantage that we can.”