FORT HOOD — About 4,000 soldiers are getting in some final training this week before heading out to the National Training Center for the first time in three years.
Since 9/11, the 1st Cavalry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team has deployed four times to Iraq and has focused its training around counterinsurgency missions, and later, on its role as the final advise and assist brigade in the country.
For the past six months, the “Greywolf Brigade” has turned its attention back to traditional warfighting and will put those skills to the test at the center at Fort Irwin, Calif.
“It’s the first time we’re getting back to our core competencies,” said Lt. Col. Robert Hensley, commander of the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment. “It’s skills we haven’t been asked to use in a little while.”
The National Training Center allows ground and aviation brigades to conduct force-on-force and live-fire training in a joint scenario across the spectrum of conflict, using a live-virtual-constructive training model. The Army’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment serves as the opposing enemy force at the center.
Even during its 2009 training center rotation, Hensley said, it focused on counterinsurgency. In the scenarios, soldiers lived on forward operating bases and had insurgent threats to deal with to prepare for the indirect warfare under way then in Iraq and continuing today in Afghanistan.
During this rotation, soldiers will be maneuvering to encounter direct enemies to engage in tank battles, which were last conducted at the beginning of the Iraq War.
First Sgt. Shane Hanover, of Greywolf’s Charlie Company, 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, said the last time he deployed in the traditional role of a cavalry scout was to Iraq from 2004 to 2005. When he deployed most recently with 3rd Brigade, he conducted civilian military operations, helped to rebuild infrastructure and established security.
“I enjoy getting back into it and to see soldiers in the training I used to do,” Hanover said. “It’s more force on force and less public affairs.”
To train up for its monthlong rotation at the center, training began at the individual level, working up through the platoon and company levels. Battalion and brigade assets came together last week for the culminating exercise, which is still ongoing.
“Soldiers are really looking forward to it and are motivated to do the traditional warfighting skills of their specific branch,” Hensley said.
On Monday, two tank companies from 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, conducted a tactical scenario with support from 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, helicopters from 1st Air Combat Brigade with indirect fire provided by Hensley’s field artillery battalion.
Company commanders had to figure out where and what obstacle lay before them — in this case, a minefield — and determine how to destroy it and defeat the enemy on the other side.
“It’s a hybrid between the old fight and the fight we’re fighting now,” Hanover said.
The biggest challenge has been getting soldiers back into conducting the expertise of their job, said Sgt. 1st Class John Watson, the first sergeant for Alpha Troop, 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment.
Young soldiers aren’t accustomed to the traditional role of a cavalry scout, living on the land and spending long durations of time on the move. At Fort Hood, the squadron has spent a handful of days at a time in the field, but at the training center, Watson said he expects that to be extended to two weeks at a time.
“The time at which we’ll spend in the field is difficult for the soldiers to comprehend,” Watson said. “They’ve come a long way and learned a lot through their NCOs and leadership.”
The brigade does not have a deployment scheduled.
“We don’t know where our next fight is going to be, but we’re preparing for it,” Hanover said.