Soldiers assigned to the 319th Engineer Support Company and Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster, commander, 980th Engineer Battalion, conduct a 10-kilometer ruck march at Fort Bliss, Texas, June 16, 2021. The ruck march was the culminating event for the Extended Combat Training and provided service members an opportunity to exhibit pride and esprit de corps. | U.S. Army photo by Capt. Brandon Fambro
FORT BLISS – Soldiers of the 319th Engineer Support Company (ESC) honed their skills during Extended Combat Training (ECT) to complete horizontal and vertical construction projects at Fort Bliss, Texas for two weeks in June.
The 319th ESC is a United States Army Reserve unit, comprised of vertical and horizontal engineers, maintenance, logistics, and administrative Soldiers, is based in El Paso, Texas; and part of the 980th Engineer Battalion, 420th Engineer Brigade, and 416th Theater Engineer Command (TEC).
The company’s objectives or mission during the ECT were to build anti-vehicle-ditches (AVDs), Hull Defilade and Turret Defilade positions; complete an Individual Weapon Qualification (IWQ) range, and to complete the Army Combat Fitness Test validation training.
“We worked closely with the 647th Regional Support Group (RSG), Fort Bliss Mobilization Brigade, and 1st Armored Division during our planning phase,” said Capt. Bryce Papke, commander, 319th ESC. “The timeline was much shorter than an average ECT planning cycle, but the personal relationships we were able to make with all of the organizations involved were paramount.”
Papke attributes the ECT success to the combined efforts from the leadership of the 647th RSG and 1st Armored Division leadership teams, as well as highly motivated 319th ESC Soldiers.
“Without 647th RSG leadership, we would have been unable to secure our logistical support in enough time to conduct our training,” said Papke. “The 647th RSG was a key player in introducing us to the 1st Armored Division Engineer.”
Lt. Col. Robert Mikyska, deputy commanding officer, 647th RSG, FBMB, played a vital role in making the ECT a reality.
“When we (647th RSG) first were made aware of the training opportunity from our 980th Engineer Battalion, partners, we were excited to see how we could assist with this project,” said Mikyska. “When Maj. Gen. Matthew Baker, commander, 416th TEC, met with Maj. Gen. Sean Bernabe, commander, 1st Armored Division, we felt there was the beginning of what would develop into a productive training relationship, allowing for our Soldiers to conduct construction missions in an expeditionary environment here on Fort Bliss.”
“Initially, the 319th ESC was scheduled for another mission within Texas, however, after that mission was changed they were available to help with a construction mission on Fort Bliss which was planned but not sourced for construction,” Mikyska said. “The timing worked exceptionally well as the 319th was able to switch their Extended Combat Training to Fort Bliss to work the identified project.”
Mikyska continued by saying the success of the 319th ESC was a team effort from all players involved.
“Of note, significant support provided by the 416th TEC, 420th Engineer Brigade, and 980th Engineer Battalion was critical to the success of the 319th this year,” said Mikyska. “This coupled with the support received by the staff of the 647th RSG allowed for a seamless transition to a new mission, building on a new partnership with 1st Armored Division on a critical project.”
During the first week of ECT, noncommissioned officers from the 647th RSG, held an Army Combat Fitness Test grader validation training at Fort Bliss for 319th ESC Soldiers, noncommissioned officers, and officers.
1st Lt. Juan Mendoza, officer in charge, Fort Bliss Mission Training Complex, served as the officer in charge during the two-day ACFT validation training.
“At first, the level of motivation for the 319th seemed to be high for some individuals, but not everyone,” said Mendoza. “As the events began, their level of motivation began to rise. They began to motivate one another and ensured that they did their best during each event. A no soldier left behind mentality.”
“Toward the end, when it came to the run, I was so motivated by them that I decided to run with most individuals at the end of every stretch,” Mendoza said. “Having trained graders enables mission readiness because you do not have to be looking for graders to certify your Soldiers and your unit. You have that asset available to you with trained graders.”
The Soldiers who completed the two-day validation training have the ability to serve as testing officer/NCO in charge to administer the ACFT, validate testing location, validate the testing equipment to standard, grade the six ACFT events to standard, administer a 90-day record ACFT, and train level 1 graders with a three-hour validation.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic we ensured all service members, including those who were going to be certified, had watched the Army produced ACFT familiarization video,” said Papke. “In addition, classes were taught by different NCOs within the company in preparation.”
Completing the Individual Weapon Qualification range was another objective for the 319th ESC Soldiers during the ECT.
The Army released the “TC 3-20.40 Training and Qualification-Individual Weapons” or “Dot-40,” in July 2019 which covers not just rifle and carbine marksmanship but also implemented new standards for pistol and other individual weapons.
“This was our second time conducting the new qualification tables,” said Papke. “We followed each table, in order, and leaned on our NCOs to provide proper preliminary marksmanship instruction prior to the range. Our NCOs did a fantastic job, which in turn, led to doubling the amount of Soldiers that qualified.”
1st Lt. James Hethcox, executive officer, 319th ESC, commented that a great deal of the unit’s success during ECT was a direct result of the hard work of the noncommissioned officers.
“Although many of our NCOs were involved in helping to get our Soldiers prepared for the range, our maintenance section senior mechanic, Staff Sgt. Trent Kull, was definitely vital in the whole process of getting the 319th ESC through the process of mission completion.”
“During ECT, our original dig operations changed to also include dig site rehab which involved backfilling and AVD, as well as adding new tank battle positions to our construction project list,” said Hethcox. “Our company’s ability to adapt to the necessary changes, proved our abilities as a very capable Army Reserve unit to our Active Duty partners.”
Hethcox also praised the enlisted Soldiers for their leadership efforts during the ECT.
“Enlisted Soldiers took charge in teaching classes from military occupational specialty specific carpentry, plumbing, electrical, 9-Line Reporting, Combat Lifesaver (CLS), and unexploded ordinance (UXO) awareness,” said Hethcox. “Our maintenance section conducted fueling operations, torch and brazing classes, as well as worked diligently on work orders.”
The 319th ESC had a successful two-week ECT and met all of their training objectives according to Papke.
“We were able to meet all of our training objectives for this Extended Combat Training,” said Papke. “Our horizontal platoons were able to build to standard, anti-vehicles ditches, as well as Hull Defilade and Turret Defilade positions.”
The unit celebrated their mission success by having a final surprise physical training event to wrap up their two weeks of training. The surprise, and voluntary event, was a 10 kilometer ruck march that started at the United States Army Reserve Center and concluded at the dig site on Fort Bliss.
“I was on a flight traveling from Fort Hood to Fort Bliss when I received a text from the 319th company commander stating that we were doing a ruck march in the morning,” said Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster, commander, 980th Engineer Battalion. “I told him that I was not planning on doing a ruck, but I’ll make it work. So…no prep, no warning, and I loved every minute of the march with the Soldiers. Shared suffering is one of my favorite bonding events. I had so little prep, that I didn’t have enough weight in my ruck to meet the standards and needed to grab rocks from the parking lot.”
Hethcox was excited when Capt. Papke shared the news about his plans for a ruck march to culminate the ECT.
“I’ll never forget the D7 Bulldozers on either side of the finish line honking their horns and “waving” to all of the ruck participants as we crossed the finish line,” said Hethcox. “I have no idea how they did that but that was a site to behold!”