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2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team trains at Fort Polk

POSTED: August 26, 2015 8:13 p.m.
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Soldiers from 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division train for live-fire movements during rotation 15-10 Monday at Fort Polk, La.

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Night operations, a trained enemy and the Louisiana heat are waiting for 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division soldiers at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, over the next month.

After 18 months of training and preparation, the Spartan soldiers are about to validate their skills by participating for several weeks in some of the most-realistic combat training the Army has to offer.

JRTC is “America’s premier infantry-training center,” Lt. Col. Mark Olin, chief of plans for exercise, maneuver, control with Operations Group at JRTC, said in an email.

They are capable of training a variety of units, including Special Operation Forces, “in challenging joint scenarios that enhance unit capacity and capability by stressing systems, soldiers and leaders in a fully immersive combat environment,” Olin said.

JRTC at Fort Polk is one of three Combat Training Centers. The others are the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, and the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, Olin said.

Preparing

For the last two years, 2nd IBCT commander Col. Thomas Gukeisen has studied the lessons of past units that have rotated through JRTC.

“So I took those critical lessons learned from previous rotations in developing our own training plan,” he said before leaving for JRTC.

Gukeisen’s intention with creating that training plan was that the soldiers would go into their upcoming rotation at a higher level of training using knowledge from these past rotational units.

Their months of training have meant going back to the basics.

“For the last 13 years, we have been either in Iraq or Afghanistan,” said Lt. Col. Scott Shaw, commander of 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 2nd IBCT, before leaving. “Truck-bound, doing patrols — we have not functioned as light infantry, living off the land, since the war started. And we’re bringing that back into focus, and have been for the last 20 months.”

Completing the JRTC rotation will show the Army that 2nd IBCT soldiers are ready for any mission they are asked to do.

“We are validating our ability as a battalion, validating our soldiers’ ability to serve as light infantry,” Shaw said. “And JRTC is a high-level training exercise that certifies the brigade. So the soldiers going there and training is part of that validation of the brigade.”

The scenario

JRTC conducts 10 rotations every year, and 2nd Brigade soldiers will head into a scenario that will put them up against a variety of enemy forces and threats.

“The Decisive Action Training Environment rotation, or DATE, focuses unit training across the full spectrum of combat operations to hone core warfighting skills against a hybrid threat that includes near-peer conventional forces, insurgent and terrorist cells, and criminal networks in the joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational environment,” Olin said.

“Rotations may include live-fire exercises, joint attack and airlift training with the Air Force, and engagement with other government and non-governmental organizations,” he said.

The hybrid threats are “a combination of what we had 10 years of counterinsurgency. We as an institution don’t want to lose that, but we’re also ramping it up for conventional-based forces,” Gukeisen said.

He also said the operations group selects the types of threats 2nd IBCT will face based on intelligence reports and current events.

This rotation will be the first at JRTC to have 18 days of force-on-force training, according to Gukeisen, in which 2nd IBCT soldiers will be constantly vigilant against a well-trained enemy force, simulated by JRTC’s 1st Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

“By extending JRTC and NTC rotations from 14 days to 18 days, soldiers will have additional opportunities to conduct force-on-force tactics, retrain and hone their ability to operate as a team while reviewing their growth and progress with the (center’s) observer-controllers,” Olin said.

JRTC places the enemy and the threats in a scenario that could be picked from today’s headlines.

“So it’s a replicated scenario where a country (has) initially covertly extended their influence into an ally (the fictional country of Atropia) of the United States,” Gukeisen said. “And that country has asked for help, and so it’s beyond their capability, and they’ve asked for help from the United States through a U.N. resolution. So very applicable today.”

The soldiers have two goals at JRTC: to “gain space for the security forces of Atropia to regain control of their area, and to help provide for legitimate governance inside of Atropia,” according to Shaw.

JRTC experience

“The hardest part about JRTC is getting there and getting back,” Shaw said. “The deployment and redeployment activities that are involved in a JRTC activity try the systems and test the systems of every organization that ever goes.”

And once they get there, “soldiers and leaders of the 2nd Brigade will experience the full spectrum of combat operations in an extremely complex and fully immersive environment,” Olin said.

“They will be challenged at every echelon of leadership against a multitude of threats and will have to deal with a broad range of governmental, non-governmental and host-nation agencies in order to learn and grow as a team while accomplishing their mission to stabilize and defend the nation of Atropia.”

“They’re intent is to stress you,” Gukeisen said, “to the point of breaking, but not break you.”

By applying this stress, JRTC observers can help fix any problems that arise, and the unit can leave better than when it came in, according to Gukeisen.

Expectations

What 2nd IBCT is expected to do at JRTC can be summed up in one word: win.

“We’re going to win. I’m not going there to train, I’m going there to win,” Gukeisen said. “That’s been our attitude. I’m not going there to learn; learning is a byproduct. But the intent of a training center is to find those areas where you can improve and make you leave better than when you entered. But if you enter at a higher state, then you can leave at a higher state.”

After the Spartan soldiers are validated at JRTC, the brigade will get ready for its next mission: being regionally aligned with Africa Command and deploying soldiers to support a variety of missions.

“I believe that if we can train and master our core proficiency of decisive action that that can translate very well into our support and our theater cooperation and other missions that we have in Africa for the next year,” Gukeisen said.

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