Strike Brigade’s mantra, “I am a Strike Soldier, I fight where I am told and win where I fight,” rang loudly in 2020, a year marred with unprecedented uncertainty.
The brigade’s ability to adapt to new variables in order to meet mission readiness standards was tested. Not only did Strike surpass the standards, they proved to be trailblazers taking the lead as the Army’s first brigade-size element to conduct a training exercise since COVID-19 restrictions were implemented in March.
The brigade conducted an accelerated training plan early in the year. This was the first opportunity for many Strike units to collectively train in over a year, because of Strike’s previous mission set, primarily the Regionally Aligned Force mission in Africa and the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine mission.
The global pandemic began to impact routine operations. All training was postponed by mid-March, and Strike followed the division’s lead in moving to mission essential manning. Most of the brigade worked remotely, while planning continued for the upcoming rotation at Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Strike gradually increased COVID-19 compliant mission essential training activities in preparation for June’s collective training. Strike conducted multiple small arms ranges and executed a virtual JRTC leadership training program session with leadership from the battalion and brigade level.
Strike also received the Martin V-BAT Future Unmanned Aerial System, a trial platform for eventual replacement of the Shadow UAS, providing an opportunity for Strike Soldiers to inform future Army procurement decisions.
“This bottom-up feedback helps ensure that our Soldiers remain better equipped and better trained than any potential adversary. Strike Soldiers will provide valuable feedback on all aspects of the V-BAT platform as we test its capabilities,” said Col. Michael Kovacevic, commander of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
In preparation for JRTC, Strike sent more than 1,300 pieces of rolling equipment and containers from Lock C in Indian Mound Tennessee, to Fort Polk. The equipment was used during the brigade’s rotation when Strike Soldiers took on Geronimo in August.
Using Lock C to transport equipment via barge versus rail saved the Army $3 million, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Arnold Justice, 326th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Abn. Div.
To ensure a safe training environment during JRTC the brigade tested about 4,000 Soldiers for COVID-19. Pool testing was meticulously planned and executed to accommodate the large number of exercise participants.
“The advantage of pool testing is that it is a more efficient method than testing individual cases because it creates a check and balance system,” said Capt. Tyler Connell, Strike Brigade’s medical operations officer.
August marked the culmination of months of preparation as JRTC kicked off. This was the Army’s first brigade-size element exercise since COVID-19 restrictions were implemented. Even with the approach of Hurricane Laura, Strike executed the exercise successfully while ensuring the safety of its Soldiers.
“We had two clear missions during this rotation,” Kovacevic said. “Deterring America’s potential adversaries by maintaining a high level of readiness while also ensuring the health of our Soldiers, Families and communities. Conducting training at the Joint Readiness Training Center supports both missions, as we increase the lethality of the brigade while setting an example of how large-scale collective training is executed safely during COVID-19.”
After a successful JRTC rotation, Strike bade farewell to Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas R. Conn and welcomed new Strike 7, Command Sgt. Maj. Charles D. Walker, Sept. 24, during a brigade change of responsibility.
During November several Strike Soldiers and units were recognized for their outstanding achievements.
Both the 101st Airborne Division noncommissioned officer and Soldier of the Year came from 2-502nd Infantry Regiment, Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Miller and Spc. Garrett Turner.
Turner went on to compete and win the U.S. Army Forces Command Best Warrior Competition. FORSCOM also recognized 2-502nd Inf. Regt. and Master Sgt. Dustin Thweatt with the Army Award for Maintenance Excellence and Best Senior Career Counselor respectively.
The Department of the Army recognized B Company, 526th Brigade Support Battalion, with the Army Award for Maintenance Excellence in the small unit category and they will represent the Army in the Department of Defense competition.
Finally, December was a somber month for the Strike Family as they hosted the 35th annual Gander Memorial ceremony Dec. 12. Strike Families and friends gathered to honor and remember the 248 peacekeepers and eight flight crew members who lost their lives Dec. 12, 1985, while in service to our nation on a return flight home that crashed in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada.
The Soldiers of Strike Brigade look to the future but acknowledge 2020’s challenges.