CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS, Pa.– In preparation for an upcoming deployment to the Horn of Africa, Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team traveled to Fort Barfoot, Virginia (formerly known as Fort Pickett), October 2023, for a live fire exercise.
The Soldiers, part of Task Force Paxton, are part of a multi-year mission to the region that multiple units of the Pennsylvania National Guard will take part in, conducting force protection and serving in the role of crisis response if needed. The stress of a live fire exercise is key to developing confident, capable leaders and competent, well-trained Soldiers.
The live fire training is important to test leadership at several levels. The platoon leader is tested on their ability to develop and communicate a plan according to the troop leading procedures. The platoon sergeant is tested on their role during the execution of the mission. The squad leaders are tested on their ability to receive the mission and conduct the necessary rehearsals, including preparing and training on required equipment and conducting all pre-combat checks and pre-combat inspections.
They are tested on their ability to manage the team leaders during the mission. The team leaders, the lowest level leader but arguably one of the most crucial, are tested on their ability to manage and direct their team during the mission.
The platoon live fire exercise is an integral step in the train-up to any deployment. The key responsibility of an infantry platoon is to be able to effectively shoot, move and communicate under stress, and live fire exercises at all levels test this ability. To get to this point, the unit must have already moved through preliminary marksmanship instruction, qualification on their weapons during the day and night, buddy team live fire and squad live fire.
The platoon integrates several different weapon systems, including the M4 carbine, the M249 light machine gun, the M240B machine gun, the M320 grenade launcher and, in this case, 60 mm mortar systems and an M3 Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel weapon system, known as the Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle.
It is important to take all training seriously and conduct it to the best of the unit’s ability. This is where training gaps are realized, and where leaders of all levels can develop the skills needed to elevate the performance of the unit. Training events such as the live fire, and all steps leading up to the live fire, are important in making sure the Soldiers are capable and trained correctly on using the platoon equipment, whether it be weapon systems or communication equipment. For a National Guard unit, this is often the only time of the year where all these pieces of equipment come together to be utilized.
Rehearsals are the greatest tool the team, squad, platoon or company has when training for and conducting a live fire exercise. Rehearsals should include not just a scripted response and choreographed movement through the live fire training area, but discussions and walk-throughs for what to do in different conceivable situations. Communicating the “why” to lower enlisted Soldiers is often one of the most important things a leader can do to ensure a smooth and successful training mission.
During the train-up to the live fire, Bravo Company conducted a situational training exercise for three days where they practiced moving through different terrains, reacting to contact and conducting assaults as a platoon. They practiced entering, emplacing and exiting objective rally points, or ORPs, as a platoon. They practiced radio communication, hand and arm signaling and machine gun drills. They drilled over and over in different terrain during day and night in preparation for the final test of the live fire.
When the company had finally completed all the necessary training and transported all their equipment and gear to the training area in the back of their trucks, they set up camp in the fading light of a beautiful October evening. They gathered by platoon around the sand table and attentively took notes, illuminated by headlamps, from the platoon leader as he stepped through the five paragraphs of an operation order. The company commander provided comments and feedback, and then the squads huddled up, going through the plan step by step, making sure each of the members knew their role.
The next morning, the Soldiers climbed out of their sleeping bags to the chilly air, grabbed their kit, their helmet and their weapon system, and boarded the truck to head to the live fire range. The Soldiers lined up by platoon, with the golden morning light filtering through the trees slowly warming up the range.
One of the things the Army does well is training by the “crawl, walk, run” model. This was the first time many of the newer Soldiers had seen this range, and the first time that many of the more experienced Soldiers were to use the entire range as planned. The first phase is known as the crawl phase, where the training is conducted without any ammunition. The platoons each stepped off, one by one, and worked their way through the range. This is an important step as the leaders can see what still needs more work and allows them to make adjustments to the plan as needed.
The walk phase is conducted with blank ammunition and allows the platoons to really hone their movement in a safe but more realistic manner. The squads lined up at the ammunition point and received boxes of blank ammunition and smoke grenades. They attached their signaling devices to their kits, loaded their magazines and checked and rechecked their radios. By this time in the day, a beautiful October sun, more befitting a day in June in the Soldiers’ native Pennsylvania, shone down as the Soldiers maneuvered through the fields and the woods of the range.
The platoons cycled through their rotation. The squads attacked and moved in waves until they rolled through the first objective and entered the woods. A tactical pause was taken while the weapon squad moved to their secondary position and the squads signaled to each other their shift and lift commands as they moved across the range.
The run phase is when everything comes together. By now, the squads have a good idea of what their role is, what each team member’s role is, and have worked out the kinks.
The new day dawned. Live fire day. Very exciting.
The air is a little tenser than normal; it is crucial that each member moves where he’s supposed to and does what he is supposed to do. The radios are checked and re-checked again, batteries changed out, SAPI plates drawn and worn in the Soldiers’ kits. The front and back of their kit are checked, and they line up after an address by the company commander and the platoon leader. They are given final reminders to be aggressive, be safe, to finish out the training strong.
The weapon squad stepped off, with the initial movement and timing hinging on them. They emplaced and called up their position. Soon the loud report of the first rifle, in the first engagement cracks through the cool air and the fight is on.
The weapon squad had little to do other than overwatch during the first half of the range, but soon steps off, climbing the hill in defilade to move to a secondary attack position. They emplace and engage. The mortar squad, tailing along, set in, sighted their target and the squad leader began calling out commands to each gun. The shift and lift calls were given and confirmed by radio and visual signal, and the squads worked their way across the range on the attack and then quickly set up a hasty defensive position. The weapons and mortar squads moved up again to their final position, and finally the platoon incorporated the Carl Gustaf rifle, medium machine guns, M320’s, mortars and small arms in a barrage of fire and smoke as the platoon practiced repelling a simulated counterattack.
The end of the training was called and the after-action review was completed. Little things were spotlighted to be improved upon, but overall, each platoon in the company ran a very clean lane, capping off the two weeks of training.
|CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS, PA, US
This work, Inside TF Paxton’s rigorous pre-deployment live fire exercise, by SSG Jonathan Campbell, identified by DVIDS, must comply with the restrictions shown on https://www.dvidshub.net/about/copyright.