By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
With units in California, Louisiana and Iraq, the 1st Cavalry Division is spread across the world.
The 4th Brigade Combat Team left Fort Hood early this summer for a scheduled 15-month deployment to Iraq. The 3rd Brigade Combat Team left for the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., in early September, and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team deployed to the Joint Readiness Training Center shortly after. The 1st Brigade Combat Team is expected to go to Fort Irwin next month.
The Defense Department announced in late May that the 3rd Brigade could deploy this fall "to replace troops scheduled to come home by the year's end." Officials announced in June that the 1st and 2nd Brigades are expected to deploy to Iraq between January and March 2009. This will be each of the brigades' third deployments.
The training centers prepare units for combat and is an opportunity for brigades to train at a collective level. These rotations are the last major training events before the brigades deploy.
It also gives soldiers a more real-world experience and brigade commanders can work their staffs and support units in that environment, said Lt. Col. Philip Smith, 1st Cavalry spokesman.
Elements from the division's 1st Air Cavalry Brigade are set to accompany each brigade during their training center rotations.
The 3rd Brigade's stay at the National Training Center began with a reception, staging, onward movement and integration period in which soldiers met with observer/controllers who oversee and grade their performance during the training. The "OCs" met with units and tell them their strengths and weaknesses so the soldiers are better prepared for what they may face in combat.
The units then move out to "The Box," and conduct things like combat patrols, route clearance and various live-fire exercises – all essential skills these men and women will use when they deploy.
Next up are full-spectrum operations in which units operate as if they were in combat – in 3rd Brigade's case, Iraq, said Maj. Ramona L.B. Bellard, brigade spokeswoman.
"Everything that happens after Sept. 19 until it's time to go back to Fort Hood will be as if it were actually happening in Iraq and "we have to react to it – the game is on," Bellard said.
"Training is going very, very well. ... People I've spoken to who have been here in the past can not believe how (the National Training Center) has evolved – the villages are so realistic and the training here is so realistic that it is easy to forget that we are still in America," Bellard said.
"The brigade commander's (Col. Gary Volesky) main objective for the unit coming to NTC was that we get better everyday and don't quit – and we've done that."
Full-spectrum operations end Thursday and all the brigade's soldiers are expected to return to Fort Hood by Oct. 6, Bellard added.
The 2nd Brigade's stint at the Joint Readiness Training Center started off rocky because of Hurricane Ike. Tornadoes touched down near a forward operating base occupied by the 15th Brigade Support Battalion and its attached unit, the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade's 3rd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment.
Training would press through any storm, said Col. Ryan Gonsalves, the brigade commander.
He said the main goal during the rotation was "team building."
"It is an incredibly difficult challenge to simulate a deployment to Iraq with all the challenges and variables that a unit may face; however, (the training center) has taken the necessary steps to simulate as much as possible those aspects of the operating environment that the (brigade) will encounter in daily operations," Gonsalves said.
Like at the National Training Center, the Fort Polk-based training ends with simulated warfighting.
It is important for soldiers to make the most of every training opportunity, no matter how short-staffed they were, Gonsalves said.
"We have to develop our ways of doing things as a team," he told his staff. "We don't have all the (field grade officers) and senior (noncommissioned officers), but people step up in our organization."
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547.