Training Pays Dividends for 101st Soldiers in Afghanistan

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Nov. 22, 2010 — A rig­or­ous train­ing reg­i­men the 101st Air­borne Division’s 4th Brigade Com­bat Team set into motion when it received short notice that it would deploy to Afghanistan as part of the troop surge is pay­ing off –- and, two months into the deploy­ment, it is show­ing no signs of let­ting up.

Combat Outpost Munoz in Afghanistan
U.S. Army Spc. Jon C. Humphries and U.S. Army Spc. Christo­pher M. Tobin, com­bat medics from 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 506th Infantry Reg­i­ment, 4th Brigade Com­bat Team, 101st Air­borne Divi­sion, use skills devel­oped through train­ing to teach Afghan Nation­al Army sol­diers the prop­er way to check a casu­al­ty for bleed­ing dur­ing a class at Com­bat Out­post Munoz in Afghanistan, Sept. 27, 2010.
U.S. Army pho­to by Spc. Luther Booth Jr.
Click to enlarge

Senior brigade com­man­ders told reporters via video­con­fer­ence last week from Afghanistan’s Pak­ti­ka province they’re see­ing the fruits of a nose-to-the-grind­stone pre-deploy­ment train­ing sched­ule at their home sta­tion at the Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter at Fort Polk, La.

“I can’t think of any­thing we have done here yet that we haven’t trained for back at Fort Camp­bell or at JRTC,” said Army Lt. Col. Ivan Beck­man, com­man­der of the 4th Brigade’s Spe­cial Troops Bat­tal­ion. He rat­tled off var­i­ous types of mis­sions his sol­diers are con­duct­ing in the Region­al Com­mand-East area of Afghanistan: route-clear­ance, mil­i­tary intel­li­gence, sig­nal and Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty force train­ing, among them.

“We were very well-trained before we deployed here, and the train­ing has real­ly paid off,” Beck­man said.

Army Col. Sean Jenk­ins, the brigade com­man­der, rec­og­nized when he was noti­fied in Feb­ru­ary 2010 of the upcom­ing deploy­ment that he’d have to move his train­ing plan into high gear. The brigade’s ini­tial con­tin­gent of troops deployed with­in five months. When the brigade assumed oper­a­tional con­trol of Pak­ti­ka province in Sep­tem­ber, Jenk­ins declared it ready to become the last com­bat brigade to arrive in Afghanistan as part of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s troop surge.

“We went through a very quick train-up” to pre­pare for the deploy­ment, he said.

In addi­tion to work­ing with the Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter cadre to ensure the brigade’s mis­sion rehearsal exer­cise con­duct­ed there in May built on his sol­diers’ strengths and iden­ti­fied any short­com­ings, Jenk­ins kept his troops focused on what he calls the “big six.”

It’s an exten­sive array of capa­bil­i­ties, Jenk­ins told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice, that he con­sid­ers crit­i­cal to bat­tle­field suc­cess: phys­i­cal fit­ness, marks­man­ship, bat­tle drills, med­ical skills train­ing, dri­ving, and reflect­ing an area of Army-wide empha­sis, resilience.

In addi­tion, the brigade’s “Toc­coa Tough” pro­gram, named for the sto­ried unit that came to be known dur­ing World War II as the “Band of Broth­ers,” empha­sized men­tal as well as phys­i­cal resilience for sol­diers as well as their fam­i­lies, Jenk­ins explained.

Two months into the deploy­ment, Jenk­ins said these prepa­ra­tions are pay­ing big div­i­dends as his sol­diers make reg­u­lar con­tact with the ene­my, some­times oper­at­ing at alti­tudes some­times exceed­ing 9,000 feet.

“But we can’t rest on our lau­rels,” Jenk­ins said, empha­siz­ing that the train­ing con­tin­ues dur­ing the deploy­ment. “We have to learn every day, and we have to learn faster than the ene­my.”

Brigade Com­mand Sgt. Maj. Hec­tor San­tos called the deploy­ment an oppor­tu­ni­ty to use their real-world expe­ri­ences in Afghanistan to broad­en on their train­ing base. “We are a learn­ing orga­ni­za­tion, and we con­tin­ue to learn from what the ene­my [does] to deter­mine, ‘How can we do it bet­ter?’ ” he said.

Sol­diers return­ing from patrols go through reg­u­lar after-action reviews, dis­cussing what they encoun­tered, how they react­ed, how it impact­ed the patrol and what lessons they learned that can apply to the next patrol, he said.

“When we deployed, the train­ing didn’t stop,” San­tos said. “It has con­tin­ued day in and day out to ensure our sol­diers are ready to meet any­thing out there. We are going to meet that chal­lenge head on.”

Army Lt. Col. David Wom­ack, com­man­der of the 506th Infantry Regiment’s 1st Bat­tal­ion, said return­ing for a sec­ond deploy­ment to the same region gives the unit a big head start in short­en­ing the learn­ing curve.

“If you know the ter­rain as well as the ene­my does, and we learn it bet­ter every day, it makes us more lethal,” he said. “It lev­els the play­ing field. And at some point, we don’t want it to be a lev­el play­ing field. We are all about tak­ing every unfair advan­tage that we can.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter