In 2020, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) became the example for organizations to emulate through leadership and innovative ways to maintain readiness throughout our nation’s response to COVID-19.
The brigade started the year with intentions to master the fundamentals of their historic division by hosting an Air Assault Leaders Professional Development.
More than 60 leaders within the brigade attended the training, Jan. 7-8 that set the foundation for the brigade leaders as they prepared for their rotation to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana that fall.
The brigade continued to thrive in their winning air assault spirit, by conducting their annual historic event of Bastogne Week.
The week consisted of a variety of events that tested Soldiers’ skill in marksmanship, culinary arts, physical fitness and squad tactics.
Fairly new brigade commander, Col. Robert Born couldn’t have been more impressed by his Soldiers at the end of the competition.
“It was very close,” Born said. “This is an indicator of how consistent and how evenly distributed the talent is in this great organization. It is truly a team across all war fighting functions.”
The overall winner was the Red Currahee of 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment.
Challenges of COVID-19
In March, Bastogne Brigade, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and 101st Abn. Div. protocol, began to take measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. For months the brigade was on a mission-essential only roster and Soldiers ceased training in large groups to prevent the spread of the virus.
Bastogne Brigade adapted to make sure it remained lethal through the challenge. Leaders at every echelon began to create workout videos, tactical courses and develop practical exercises using multiple sources of technology.
The culinary specialists within the Snipes Dining Facility stood ready to enhance morale and allow the brigade to sustain the force during the pandemic by remaining open and proudly serving hot meals to every Bastogne Soldier seven days a week.
Through relentless sanitation measures, COVID-19 screening and long hours of preparation the DFAC continues to serve the brigade’s Soldiers and Family members.
The Soldiers of Draught Troop, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, kept the squadron ready to fight throughout our nation’s response to COVID-19.
The troopers in D Co. pushed their pacing item readiness to 98%, and supported the 531st Hospital Center during their deployment to New York City to aid with the pandemic by creating more than 60 ear-savers for their masks with their 3D printing capability and fueled the entire squadron with masks through their Family Readiness Group program.
Fighting through the pandemic
Bastogne continued training with the proper COVID-19 mitigation measures in place and began preparing for their rotation at JRTC.
Several units began taking to the range on small arms and heavy weapons. Other battalions took it a step further and began squad-based competitions to ensure the team was ready to fight.
First Lieutenant Quinn Malone, platoon leader, B Co., 2-327th Inf. Regt. was one of the first leaders to hit the range with his unit within the brigade. With the proper safety precautions for the range and to mitigate the spread of the virus, he qualified every Soldier that attended his range.
While No Slack was at the range, 1-506th Inf. Regt. began building cohesive teams with their squad competition.
Fifteen squads participated in a grueling competition that culminated in the first ever presentation of the Currahee Belt, a custom designed championship belt purchased by the Battalion Command team to recognize the determination and grit of formations within the battalion.
Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Farmer, 1-506th Inf. Regt. battalion commander, praised his unit’s ability to adapt and overcome as his squads excelled despite the lack of collective training due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Leaders also took the time to honor our nation’s heroes.
No Slack battalion participted in a 24-hour on Memorial Day to honor the nation’s fallen.
Command Sergeant Major Patrick Doherty, senior enlisted adviser of 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, felt it was necessary to honor all the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice, especially within No Slack battalion.
The Bulldogs from 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, honored one of their Desert Storm veterans at Memorial Row.
The 101st Airborne Division’s Soldiers past and present within the mortar platoon from 1-327th Inf. Regt., honored retired Master Sgt. Thomas LeVesque, with a flag folding ceremony.
Seven Soldiers that served with LeVesque traveled from across the country to honor their former platoon sergeant that served with them in Desert Shield/Desert Storm from 1990 to 1991 within Bulldog Battalion.
Sergeant First Class Timothy Hansen, mortar platoon sergeant, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1-327 Inf. Regt., felt honored to fold the flag for a Soldier that once served in his position so many years ago.
“We folded a flag with Soldiers who served in this platoon 30 years ago,” Hansen said. “You hear so much about these guys who were in that position back then and they were so great. It makes me ask if I’m good enough to be in this spot. Since I am it’s very uplifting.”
Beating the odds at JRTC
Basogne Brigade was one of the initial unit’s to pave the way to show the nation how the Army can and will maintain its lethality despite the pandemic.
Prior to heading to Fort Polk, every Soldier attending the world’s premier training center was tested for COVID-19.
After testing the force, the brigade stayed in a bubble on Fort Polk and trained with a strict COVID-19 mitigation plan to conduct realistic training. The brigade performed exceptionally. During defensive operations, 326th Brigade Engineer Battalion played a vital role with the maneuver elements by stopping Geronimo for 37 minutes with complex obstacles, gaining them high praise by Maj. Gen. Brian E. Winski, commanding general of the 101st Abn. Div. and Fort Campbell.
Command Sergeant Major Derek G. Wise, senior enlisted adviser, 1st BCT, also commended the brigade on their performance.
“Only a handful of people remain here from our last deployment. What we’ve been able to achieve as a new team within the unit in a relatively short period of time is absolutely phenomenal,” he said.
Bastogne masters the fundamentals after JRTC
Following JRTC, the unit quickly hit the ground running with not only training but paying homage to their legacy.
The key leaders and staff of 1-506th Inf. Regt. traveled to Toccoa, Georgia, to pay homage to their unit’s legacy while building bonds with veterans from their regiment, running the historic Currahee Mountain.
The brigade later followed in Currahee’s footsteps with a brigade key leader development of their own.
Key leaders across the brigade conducted a 26-hour team-building exercise in Dahlonega, Georgia, conducted the Currahee mountain run and shared their specific battalion’s history with each other in an exercise famously known as Bastogne Forge.
Born was excited and emphatic about the leader development across the brigade, especially after the year that challenged the unit and nation.
“We’re using some shared hardship, by conducting tactical operations in the mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest, and we’re using history,” he said. “Those two things together are going to allow for teamwork cooperation across the BCT, and that’s really going to help us as we continue to build readiness in the brigade and develop leaders.”
Bastogne led the division with two Sergeant Audie Murphy Club candidates, successfully graduating five candidates with the Expert Field Medical Badge and successfully hosting the Expert Infantry and Soldier Badge.