FORT IRWIN, Calif. - In darkness at 2 a.m., Soldiers conducted their final personnel, vehicle and equipment checks Oct. 23, 2015 and headed out in their Humvees and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles to the first checkpoint of the night infiltration mission.
They were cavalry scouts, heading out into a simulated enemy territory as part of a massive campaign to clear an opposing force from a patch of mountainous desert more than 500 square kilometers.
Soldiers assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, simulate a tank battle during Decisive Action Rotation 16-01 at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., Oct. 14. The two-week interactive training creates a live, virtual and constructive environment for brigade-sized elements. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Sarah Zendejas)
In the first vehicle, a Humvee nicknamed by its crew “the Black Pearl,” Sgt. Matthew Domek and his crew from Battery A, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, headed out into the darkness into enemy territory as the first element of a campaign that would eventually involve three combined arms battalions, a heavy artillery regiment, attack aviation, close air support, combat engineers in Assault Breacher Vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles and others.
“As a reconnaissance element driving forward, our job is to identify and defeat counter recon elements and report on the ‘trafficability' of routes and the enemy situation,” said Domek, a native of Chicago.
Domek said it was an honor to be the lead vehicle of the brigade's culminating live fire exercise, an honor his gunner Spc. Jacob Troester, a native of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and his driver, Pvt. Eric Fernandez, a native of Waco, Texas, earned scoring 1,000 out of 1,000 on a Table VI crew gunnery certification at Fort Hood, Texas.
The fourth member of the crew, Spc. Stephen Cuadros, is a dismount team leader and played pivotal roles during the rotation at remote observation posts, observing enemy positions and movements before the culminating mission of the brigade's decisive action rotation at the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.
“We are currently rated the most lethal crew, that's why we were the first ones out,” said Domek.
More than 5,000 Soldiers from the 1st ABCT, and enabling units from active, National Guard and Reserve units from 11 states challenged the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment's Blackhorse opposing forces with more firepower than they've seen in many years.
Ironhorse Soldiers brought more than 1,600 vehicles and pieces of equipment to the fight, including 80 M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tanks and 150 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles.
Combat power begins with planning and relies on good intelligence on the enemy. To negate a determined enemy, good intelligence on the disposition and capabilities of the enemy force, as well as anticipating enemy courses of action is critical, said Capt. Dmitriy Leontyev, intelligence officer, 1st ABCT.
Soldiers from Company B, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, infiltrate and secure buildings against oppositional forces during Decisive Action Rotation 16-01 the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., Oct. 22, 2015. Decisive action rotations ensure BCTs remain versatile, responsive and consistently available for the current fight and unforeseen future contingencies. (U.S. Army photo by Pvt. Jasmine Ballard, Operations Group, National Training Center)
“We analyze the mission, terrain, the enemy composition, and present an enemy course of action so the commander can develop his plans,” said Leontyev, a native of Tampa Bay, Florida, and originally from Moscow. “NTC is good training because you can utilize all intelligence assets and systems against an enemy actively attempting to defeat your intelligence collection plans.”
The larger the military unit or mission is, the more complex the planning.
“The footprint for an armored brigade combat team is immense,” said Maj. Edward Arntson, operations officer, 1st ABCT. “We executed deliberate planning to move and position the force inside our area of operations. We had nine battalions in the task force during the rotation, including a chemical battalion and an aviation battalion. The entire team had to understand the unique capabilities and limitations that each of those formations brought to the fight.”
Planning for a NTC rotation begins at least six months before the unit is scheduled to participate, said Arntson.
“Our home station training plan was intense, and it prepared us well for NTC,” said Arntson. “We executed multiple command post exercises for the brigade staff, multiple tactical operating center jumps, and conducted excellent live fire training. Our August field training and fire coordination exercise, Ironhorse Challenge, was a great culminating training event to exercise all of the battalion and brigade systems before NTC.”
While many young Soldiers were experiencing NTC for the first time, for some, the rotation was not a new experience.
“This is our third time at NTC this year,” said Spc. Richard Russo, communications specialist, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st ABCT.
His company served as opposing forces at NTC in February, and then his battalion was a supporting unit during a 1st Armored Division rotation in June before participating in the Ironhorse brigade's October rotation.
“Serving as OPFOR [opposing forces] in February was fun, and they had us staying on the main post at Fort Irwin,” said Russo, a Seattle native. “Coming three times in the same year is not ideal, and my wife Marissa is not happy about all the time away, but she understands, and it seems like we get better every time.”
Soldiers undergo rigorous training at NTC, with traditional force-on-force missions, as well as civil-military engagements, detainee operations, humanitarian missions, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive missions, and many other challenging scenarios to prepare for a wide variety of possible missions around the globe.
“The training at NTC is a capstone, not a culminating exercise,” said Col. John DiGiambattista, commander, 1st ABCT. “In less than nine months we have returned units from Europe, completed reset and gunnery tables, certified at NTC, and are ready to deploy wherever our nation calls us. We must sustain the readiness we have achieved throughout training day 14 here. The final thing that underwrites everything is Soldier discipline.”
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Keith Anderson
Provided through DVIDS
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