La. Guard’s Infantry hones combat skills during exercise

Sgt. Noshoba Davis, Louisiana National Guard Public Affairs Office
Soldiers with Alabama National Guard's 1st Battalion, 173rd Infantry Regiment, 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conduct platoon tactical movements during eXportable Combat Training Capability at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, Mississippi, July 24, 2018. The 256th IBCT participated in XCTC as preparation for the Joint Readiness Training Center rotation in 2019 at Fort Polk in Leesville, Louisiana.

Over 3,000 Soldiers from the Louisiana National Guard’s 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team participated in eXportable Combat Training Capability at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, July 14 - Aug. 3.

XCTC is a National Guard program used to provide a similar experience to a combat training center. The program is used to certify platoon proficiency throughout brigades in a field environment. The 256th and participating units were evaluated, coached and trained by the 177th Armored Brigade, First Army Division East.

“Our goal in the 256th is to maximize on every training opportunity we have leading up to our Joint Readiness Training Center rotation next year,” said Col. William Rachal, 256th commander. “It’s important to us to do this because it better prepares the brigade’s leadership for our state and federal missions. XCTC enables us as a brigade combat team to train all levels of our staff and leadership.”

During the three-week-long training exercise, Guardsmen were trained and tested in every operational capacity they have, from ensuring proficiency with each weapons system to moving quietly and tactically at night. The units in the 256th include traditional infantry, artillery, combat engineer, cavalry, transportation, and various support units.

Rachal customized the 256th training based on areas in need of improvement and building on skills in which the brigade is already proficient. He said, “Every training event is designed to improve past deficiencies and expand upon past successes.”

Lt. Col. Keith Robinson, the LANG’s state training officer, said that based on feedback from the JRTC operations group, there was a lack of integration between the rotational unit and their combat sustainment support battalion.

Robinson explained the 256th decided to begin those partnerships before JRTC next year by inviting them to participate in XCTC.

“By using XCTC as a mission rehearsal exercise, it allowed the 256th and their enablers to learn how each other operates and train together before going into JRTC,” said Robinson.

About 400 Guardsmen from Illinois, Florida, South Carolina, New York, Tennessee and Alabama supported the 256th at XCTC with assets including aviation, engineer, medical and laundry service capabilities.

“We all train the same, but execute things differently,” said Capt. Nathan Attard, commander of the New York National Guard’s 152nd Engineer Support Company. “This training allows us to learn how each other works and exchange ideas. Our Soldiers are training one another and building a partnership that will hopefully continue next year when we are at JRTC.”

After two weeks of practicing their mission roles on the training lanes at Camp Shelby, Guardsmen conducted a three-day field training exercise (FTX) to conclude XCTC. These training lanes included area security, platoon screens, live-fire exercises with mortars, truck gunnery, artillery and route reconnaissance.

“Training like this benefits our Soldiers because we have engineers and infantry working together,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Shayne Bellina, senior enlisted advisor for the 796th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 256th IBCT. “Our engineers work all year long on demolition, breeching obstacles and horizontal work, but it’s rare that we have an opportunity to put it together outside of exercises like XCTC.

The FTX was based on a brigade tactically moving into and taking control of an area that was under enemy rule. The opposing force was played by active-duty Soldiers from 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, stationed at Fort Polk in Leesville, Louisiana.

“My favorite thing out here has been getting to blow things up,” said Pfc. Lindsey Champagne of Lafayette, one of the first LANG female combat engineers with A Company, 769th BEB, 256th IBCT. “It’s a rush and adventurous when you think about it. We are out here handling explosives which is dangerous, so it’s almost like we are living on the edge while doing our job.”

Champagne, being a new Soldier in the Guard, used her time in the field to learn from Soldiers who have been doing the job for a while.

“I love learning, and it’s a huge honor to learn from the noncommissioned officers that have experience doing this,” said Champagne. “They all bring something to our mission that makes what we do successful.”

The 256th is set for a rotation at Fort Polk’s JRTC in Leesville, Louisiana in the summer of 2019. Soldiers in the brigade will train as if in a combat situation while testing operating procedures, tactics and techniques will be tested against an oppositional force. XCTC and JRTC are trainings to prepare the 256th for a possible deployment in 2020.

“Our Soldiers performed tremendously,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick Sandel, 256th’s senior enlisted advisor. “We can’t thank the civilian employers enough for allowing their Soldiers to train an extra week and for always showing us great support. Our Soldiers trained hard, and it’s keeping the Soldiers well trained and equipped that will keep us focused and ready for anything in the future.”

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