Fort Bliss’ 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team is about to go through the Army’s toughest training challenge.
About 4,000 soldiers from the Ready First Brigade – as it is nicknamed – are heading off to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
The brigade’s advance parties have already left and the main body will be leaving in late September. The brigade will spend most of October at NTC – undergoing a month-long training rotation.
Once there, they will go through an elaborate war game and will be tested by the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.
The 11th ACR serves as the opposing force at NTC and tests visiting brigades 10 times a year. This unit is the Army equivalent of a scrimmage partner.
“We’re looking at NTC as another way to get better,” said Maj. Jim Trask, 1st Brigade’s executive officer.
When they finish, they will be ready to go anywhere in the world and do any mission the Army wants them to do, Trask said.
This will be Ready First’s fourth trip to one of the Army’s combat training centers in about three years.
The brigade went to NTC in June 2015 and October 2016 with a trip to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisana, sandwiched in between in January 2016.
That prepared the brigade to go on a deployment to Afghanistan from January 2017 to October of that year.
“The old adage is everyone tries to win,” said Trask, from Omaha, Nebraska. “But I think you don’t really win at NTC. It is more about learning, developing – what you have done well and what we need to improve on, areas we didn’t even think about.”
The brigade will basically go through a practice deployment – in which it moves its personnel and equipment about a thousand miles from Fort Bliss to California.
Once there, they will also be coached and mentored by a staff of observer-coach-trainers. They run and guide the exercise. They also serve as powerful role models. Collectively, the OCTs – as they are known in Army lingo – are experts in virtually every Army job.
Trask said the brigade headquarters will get plenty of practice at NTC – overseeing logistics and sustainment for the brigade’s battalions
and soldiers, coordinating artillery support, collecting and distributing intelligence and conducting mission command.
Of course, soldiers will get tested in almost every way – from having to deal with lack of sleep, to living in dirty, dusty conditions for a month to primarily eating Meals Ready to Eat or MREs.
“They will be living outside,” said Sgt. Maj. Cesar Sanchez, the brigade’s operations sergeant major. “They will be attacked daily and they will have to conduct nonstop operations. I think it will toughen them up.”
Ready First has been training for this rotation since January – when it went through testing for the difficult-to-earn Expert Infantryman Badge.
Soldiers then went through a traditional gated train-up culminating with the battalion-level Ready Focus and brigade-level Iron Focus, both at the vast Fort Bliss training area.
Sanchez agreed that the upcoming rotation is a powerful way for the brigade to see where it needs to improve and stress and test all its systems and procedures.
“They will be able to see what their shortcomings are, so they can get better at the end of it and refine all their systems,” said Sanchez, who is from Fresno, California.
Sanchez said it is a powerful way to make sure everyone in the brigade is as prepared as possible for whatever mission lies ahead.
“Next time, you can put this in your kit bag so you can be even better,” Sanchez said.
Maj. Patrick O’Rourke, the brigade’s operations officer, said the brigade should view its recent deployment and previous trips to the Army’s combat training centers as a badge of pride instead of an excuse or crutch.
“It is beneficial to us, that our organization has been forged by these events,” said O’Rourke, from Niceville, Florida, “It allows us to be better prepared, instead of saying we are worn down.”
“We can use them as a means of saying we are stronger than other organizations,” O’Rourke said.
By David Burge – Special to the Herald-Post
David Burge is a news producer with ABC-7 in El Paso. He has also worked at newspapers in California, New Mexico and Texas. Covering the military is a particular passion.