Kentucky infantrymen play enemy role in joint training exercise

By 1st Lt. Michael Reinersman, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Soldiers assigned to Bravo Company 1/149th Infantry Battalion, Kentucky National Guard, spot a possible patrol from the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat team, New York National Guard, during their annual training exercise July 21st 2016, at Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La. The 1/149th are acting as Opposition Forces during this portion of the exercise as a chance to hone theirs and the 27th IBCT offensive and defensive tactics. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Lerone Simmons)

Soldiers assigned to Bravo Company 1/149th Infantry Battalion, Kentucky National Guard, spot a possible patrol from the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat team, New York National Guard, during their annual training exercise July 21st 2016, at Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La. The 1/149th are acting as Opposition Forces during this portion of the exercise as a chance to hone theirs and the 27th IBCT offensive and defensive tactics. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Lerone Simmons)

FORT POLK, La. — More than 400 Kentucky Guardsmen from the 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry honed their warrior skills while acting as the opposition force during their annual training at Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana July 10-30, 2016.

The Kentuckians played the role of the South Atropia People’s Army, a fictional force used by the U.S. military during training exercises.

Their role as opposing forces was to increase the combat readiness of the New York National Guard’s 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team as a realistic defensive and offensive force during their rotation in ‘the box’.

The box is comprised of 200,000 square acres of fields, marshlands and makeshift towns used to replicate villages in Eurasia.

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The 14-day force-on-force fighting scenario helped to better prepare units for situations they may encounter on the battlefield.

“This is a training dream, no administrative work and all our time is spent in the field,” said Sgt. Matthew Walton, unit training non-commissioned officer, Alpha Company, 1/149th.

“We have battalion sized infantry units attacking us and this is beneficial to our soldiers who are holding new positions in the unit,” he said. “This gives us different perspective of the fight, and allows us to utilize small unit tactics.”

Although Kentucky Guardsmen were portraying the enemy, the battalion’s leadership turned this into a unique opportunity to conduct infantry platoon maneuver training to all units during the exercise.

“This is a true assessment of our ability to maneuver, call-for-fire, defend and coordinate with adjacent units on the battlefield,” said Capt. Joshua Bailey, company commander for Charlie Co., 1/149th.

“We have relied on and used 60mm and 80mm mortar systems during the simulated fight and that’s one aspect of training we don’t to do very often,” said Bailey.

Sgt. Jonathan Johnson, a mortar man, attached to Bravo Co. 1/149 said, “At Fort Knox we get to fire mortars, but being here at Fort Polk, it gives us the opportunity to integrate and move with infantry units.

“It’s better training for my mortar team and if we get deployed together we will know what to do,” he said.

As the only offensive unit in Kentucky with the mission to close in and destroy enemy, the 1/149th is gaining valuable experience in fortifying defensive positions, placing improvised explosive devices and learning how operate surface-to-air missile systems.

Role playing aside, training in 100-degree heat, deploying concertina wire, placing obstacles, digging and sleeping in fighting positions, and conducting patrols throughout the day and night tested the toughness of the infantrymen.

“I know what my guys can take, they’re tough and they’re proving it,” said 1st Lt. Michael McFadden, Alpha Co., 1/149th company commander.

McFadden, along with other leadership, appreciated the high level of tactics and realistic training the JRTC implemented, and they plan to use these skills for future training exercises back in the Bluegrass.