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By Edward Eagerton
Approximately 280 Alaska Army National Guardsmen from 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment, conducted their two-week annual training July 10-25, primarily at Donnelly Training Area, located 107 miles southeast of Fairbanks, and west of Fort Greely.
This year’s annual training was the first consolidated training event for the unit since 2019, due to last year’s COVID-19 pandemic requiring the cancellation of training events to prevent the possible spread of the virus.
Capt. Vance Johnson, operations officer for the battalion, said his Soldiers were glad to be back in the field honing their skills, and that the training helped develop the battalion as a whole.
“They were highly motivated to get back to training,” he said. “[We] further developed as a team after not accomplishing a consolidation in the prior 12 months. [Our] collective proficiencies were significantly increased.”
Johnson explained that personnel from all five companies conducted their first two days of annual training at home station, here and in Fairbanks.
“We conducted individual weapons and crew-served weapons qualifications in preparation for our collective exercises at DTA,” he said. “We had five companies involved; alpha and bravo rifle companies, delta heavy weapons company, our headquarters company, and our forward support company.”
On the third day of training, all Soldiers deployed to Donnelly Training Area. Sgt. Michael Perez, a fire team leader, said that most Soldiers convoyed to the training location, while some were flown there on two Alaska Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopters from 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment. The early arrivers set up bivouac sites before the convoy arrived.
“Most people convoyed up,” he said, “but [my platoon] took the Chinook up there. It was a two-and-a-half-hour flight, versus an eight to 10-hour convoy. There are buildings at Donnelly, but we’re infantry, and we sleep outside. When we got there, we set ourselves up to live in the field.”
At the training site, the Army Guard companies began training on their specific skillsets.
“When we reached DTA, our units moved to their specific training events,” said Johnson. “Our mortars moved to the firing point and conducted 60, 80, and 120 mm mortar live fire training; our snipers did their weapon zero and known distance ranges, and also did some stalking lanes; both alpha and bravo companies conducted their live fires and platoon situational training exercises; the forward support company did field support and a defensive live fire; and our delta company completed section gunnery, which is two vehicles moving and shooting live rounds.”
Spc. Chantelle Ngiralmau, a wheeled vehicle mechanic from the Forward Support Company, explained that it was great getting hands-on training again after COVID shut events like this down.
“With the whole COVID thing, it stopped a lot of opportunities like this,” she said. “A lot of people didn’t have access to the systems they need to do their jobs, so being out in the field with the system set up and actually going through the motions, I think this was by far the best AT for everyone in their sections to learn.”
Ngiralmau said that her maintenance section set up a repair tent, learned to extract damaged vehicles from combat zones, and even had to replace the transmission of a Humvee after one of the trucks broke down. She explained that it was a good opportunity to train on a real-world problem.
“We had to use a crane on a wrecker that I had never used before,” explained Ngiralmau. “We pulled a Humvee into the maintenance tent, lifted it up, put the jacks under it, and we learned how to change the transmission using the transmission jack. It’s good practice.”
For the two rifle companies, Perez said that a lot of the training included careful rehearsals before conducting live-fire events. This would include training with their weapons empty while rehearsing team movement and communication. Afterwards, they would use blanks in their weapons before finally moving to live ammunition.
“We initially started with a lot of classes,” elaborated Perez, “because we were initiating team bounding and squad bounding techniques. So you go through a dry iteration, and you say, ‘hey, let’s knock out this rust; do you guys remember how to bound as a team without getting shot?’”
Bounding is a tactical movement where team members provide cover fire for their battle buddies as they advance on an enemy position. As they worked through the motions in a controlled environment, they also worked on smaller details to make critical steps more like muscle memory.
“While we were doing that,” he said, “we’re working on a lot of tactical and emergency reloads, reloading before you start bounding so you can protect your team members as they’re moving. You want to make sure that when you’re bounding, you’re communicating effectively. It’s called shoot, move, and communicate. I think we were rehearsing those before we even got to the dry, blank, and live iterations.”
Johnson said that this year’s annual training was designed to train the battalion at the squad level in preparation for future training events.
“This AT sets the conditions for our follow-on collective training in 2022 and 2023,” said Johnson. “This year, we did squad level training, and next year we’re training to do platoon live fires and company situational training exercises.”