Joint exercise bolsters effectiveness for infantry, engineer units

By Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry and 1123rd Sapper Company exit a UH-60 Blackhawk during an combined-arms air assault exercise at Camp Atterbury, Ind., July 18, 2017. The live-fire training event tested the skillsets of the two units as well as their joint operation abilities. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. — Soldiers with the 1123rd Sapper Company joined forces with the 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry to test how well they could work together during a combined arms exercise at Camp Atterbury, Ind., July 15-18.

Side by side the 1123rd and 1/149th conducted an air assault mission to breach an obstacle and assault a target. Aviation assets from the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade complimented the training event.

“These joint operations with State assets makes our battalion a better fighting force and will allow us to retain Soldiers during these challenges facing the National Guard,” said Lt. Col. Eddie Simpson, commander of the 1/149th. “Providing real and effective training is part of our culture in the 1/149th and these live-fire exercises just enhance our combat effectiveness.”

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With a possible attachment to a brigade combat team in the future, Simpson said the infantry battalion will face new and challenging assignments, but conducting air assault missions are part of the unit’s current mission-essential tasks to train for.

From their training area, the teams boarded UH-60 Blackhawks and flew to a landing zone where they met up to follow an infantry scout platoon more than three miles though fields and forest to the objective. The engineers then led the way to breach the obstacle with explosives allowing the infantry squads to assault the primary target with a bounding overwatch assault.

Maj. Jason Penn, executive officer for the 1/149th said the infantry’s focus was to validate squad movements and how leadership successfully coordinated from the top down.

“The leadership training we conducted not only focused on the leaders on the ground moving troops in squads and platoons, but our battalion staff and company commanders as well. The staff utilized the Military Decision Making Process to generate our tactical situation during AT, company commanders, utilized Troop Leading Procedures and issued OPORDs (Operation Order) to their platoon leaders, who then passed orders down to the squad leaders.”

Staff Sgt. Cody Ashcraft served as one of those squad leaders and said his view from the ground provided a glimpse of a “quality training day.”

“These are the days we look forward to as infantrymen,” he said. “This is our job and when we have the opportunity to put our collective efforts together, work as a team and conduct such an exercise, it’s hard to miss the spike in morale. Testing our skills, relying on each other and throw in a bunch of live rounds, that makes a pretty good day for us.”

Penn added that the combined arms exercise was “icing on the cake” for the annual training (AT) as the two units worked for months to ensure a smooth and successful live-fire exercise.

“To qualify as a CALFX (Combined Arms Live-Fire Exercise), we incorporated the 1123rd Sappers and the 63rd TAB, and both provided excellent support to our tactical mission,” he said. “The 1123rd started training with us in December and continued throughout the year leading into AT 2017. The 1/149 and 1123rd greatly benefited from the presence of one another, learning capabilities and restrictions of each.   In the past we have primarily trained in a vacuum, moving forward with combined arms represents a more realistic environment for us to operate.”

Sappers with the 1123rd also agreed the realism was an invaluable aspect of the training. Capt. Randall Kizzier, commander of the 1123rd said his unit, like the infantry, was also focused on assuring mobility in a combat environment.

“The best training we can get is training that is as real as possible,” said Kizzier. “The great thing about this training was it allowed us as engineers to see first hand the transitions between the steps of the combined arms breach without the infantry part being notional. It was great to be in the field with them and work successfully as a team.”