Lessons in survivability

Major General JP McGee, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell, leads a leadership professional development event for senior officers and noncommissioned officers from across the division Nov. 10 during Operation Lethal Eagle. The topic of the LPD was survivability using fighting positions.

Leaders from across all 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) brigades came together Nov. 10 for a day of professional development hosted by Maj. Gen. JP McGee, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell, during Operation Lethal Eagle.

The leadership professional development, or LPD, centered on survivability against enemy artillery and rocket fires with the employment of dug-in fighting positions.

Divided into teams, the senior leaders dug fighting positions and then later watched artillery fire upon them to see the effect it had.

“I think this is important because I am confident that in the future fight, we will have to face enemies who rely on artillery as their principle killing weapons,” McGee said.

To begin, the senior leaders received an overview on how to dig each fighting position to the standard and a history lesson on their effectiveness against artillery fire in relation to past conflicts.

“As far as I can tell, with all the research I’ve done and all the people I’ve talked too, the only way that you can counter artillery and rocket fires is by getting into the earth,” McGee said. “There is no other way but by digging in and building positions that are going to be resistant to artillery.”

The rigorous work allowed the leaders to experience firsthand how much time and effort is required to construct a fighting position. Filling countless sandbags and shoveling packed dirt provided an opportunity to reflect on what their Soldiers would experience when ordered to do the same.

“It’s a good opportunity to remember how much work goes into this, and it’s definitely worth it,” said Lt. Col. Sean McEwen, battalion commander, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, as he and his team put the finishing touches of tree branches and brush upon their fighting position. “It’s helping us understand the amount of work that goes into this and the standards as well.”

McGee explained this fits into what he thinks is going to be the operational employment of the 101st Airborne Division moving forward.

“I think at some point we’re going to be called upon to do a joint forcible entry,” he said. “It’s the unique capability that we bring to the Army. We’re going to go in and do multiple brigade level air assaults and seize terrain until more heavily armed forces come in, in order to reduce the number of casualties we take and make sure whatever fight or war has national support.”

Once fighting positions were completed, everyone headed over to the impact area where they observed artillery being called onto pre-made fighting positions. There they witnessed the barrage and destruction artillery would leave behind.

“It’s important for us to see this as we get ready for the future fight,” said McGee, as he explained the devastation left by the artillery that included twisted poles, dismembered mannequins and massive amounts of dislodged earth.

“What I want you to take away from this, more importantly than anything, is the importance of protection and us following our own doctrine in terms of how we have our Soldiers survive when we enter the next fight.”

The opportunity to examine the integrity of a fighting position bombarded with artillery reinforced the lesson learned from earlier that day.

“If you were on the bottom of this, you would still be OK,” McGee said as he pointed to a two-man fighting position about 15 feet away from where an artillery shell had landed. “If we’re dug in, they won’t be able to dislodge us.”

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