The dust hung thick in the air at the remote training location, and although the calendar said mid-November, the thermometer reached 80 most days while the 1st Armored Division Soldiers donned their tactical gear, in addition to their personal protective equipment, so they could train during a global pandemic.
For the past three weeks, nearly 300 Blackhawk Soldiers from the 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st AD, perfected their gunnery skills on both tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles at the Doña Ana Training Complex in New Mexico – a sprawling training area located about 30 miles north of Fort Bliss, Texas.
“A gunnery table is a cornerstone training event,” said 1-1 Cav Sgt. Maj. Christopher Belch. “What we do is build lethality. Lethality is one of the most important things that we do because, if we are not lethal, then we cannot do our jobs. By qualifying as crews on these weapons systems, we prove that we are able to kill and destroy the enemy on these platforms and perform our real-world wartime mission.”
Belch said gunnery training is broken down into a system of six tables. Table one is a skills test, table two is simulations, table three is device-based with training aids, and tables four through six are a series of increasingly difficult live fire events.
The scout Soldiers of 1-1 Cav, along with a few Soldiers from the 40th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd ABCT were just beginning table six crew qualifications on the morning of Nov. 16, 2020.
Scout Bradley crews are composed of six Soldiers – a driver, gunner, and a Bradley commander, as well as three dismount-ready Soldiers in the back. Belch said the current gunnery tables were for the three operators; the dismounts will be integrated into a live fire training event scheduled for early next year.
In true 2020 fashion, all of the gunnery tables included COVID-19 health and safety measures, making it somewhat difficult to train, given the tight quarters of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
Belch said, “It’s a struggle with COVID restrictions and still getting everybody together to train, but at the end of the day, we are able to accomplish the mission, put aside all of the distractions and get where we need to be at an acceptable level of proficiency.”
For Pvt. Christian Gilfillan, a combat engineer with Alpha Company, 40th BEB, the increased safety measures were nothing new. Gilfillan, who joined the Army in February, said he does not think training should stop because of COVID-19.
“The enemy is not stopping, so we have to be prepared,” he said. “I think Fort Bliss has done a good job with safety precautions.”
Belch described training during COVID-19 as challenging, and said he understands the families are concerned, but said the Soldiers are getting through it and they are accomplishing their mission.
“The families are rightfully concerned because they care for their spouses and loved ones,” he said. “However, the chain of command is 100 percent committed to enforcing safety standards. We are all social distancing and we are wearing the correct PPE, so we are able to train as we’ve always trained, and still enact safety measures for COVID.”
Gilfillan, 19, said the training is absolutely necessary. As a Bradley driver and new Soldier, he said the training builds confidence, which is the most important aspect of driving a tracked vehicle.
“Confidence is big,” he said. “You can’t hesitate – especially in the heat of the moment. You gotta make a decision and roll with it – even if it’s the wrong one. Be confident in what you do.”
Belch echoed Gilfillan’s thoughts on the importance of training to maintain readiness and lethality.
He said, “In a complex and challenging world – full of uncertainty – we remain lethal and we will continue to do everything to accomplish the nation’s missions.”
After two weeks of living in their vehicles and “training as they fight,” the Soldiers of 1-1 Cav may be qualified and ready to accomplish the nation’s missions, but they are also thankful to be headed back down the road to Fort Bliss – where they can finally relax, dump the sand out of their boots and enjoy some well-earned downtime.