In preparation for an August Joint Readiness Training Center rotation at Fort Polk, Louisiana, Strike Soldiers successfully conducted a situational training exercise, excited to continue their momentum after three months of individual and small-squad level training during the beginning of COVID-19.
“We were out in the field for four days conducting a variety of tasks typically associated with an infantry battalion,” said Lt. Col. John Gabriel, commander of 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), of the June 13-23 training. “It’s been quite a while since we’ve operated as a battalion together since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March, and it feels really good to get everyone together and out in the field.”
The Strike Soldiers operated squad to company-level movements during both day and night with limited visibility while conducting ambush, raid, attack and defense against a live opposing force provided by 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
“We were in uneven terrain with heavy packs on,” said Staff Sgt. Austin Jurinka, A Company, 2-502nd Inf. Regt.
“We sat up a patrol base for follow-on missions, and we raided and sat up a defensive posture,” Jurinka said. “It’s pretty much a shortened JRTC rotation, it’s very condensed but is a good trial run so we can correct ourselves and will be better prepared for JRTC.”
After not collectively training together since early March, Strike Soldiers jumped right back into training and fine-tuning their processes.
“We’re reviewing operations on where we can improve,” Gabriel said. “We are trying to get everyone’s perspective. There are about 1,000 Soldiers in a battalion with unique experiences and perspectives, and we want their feedback on what we can improve on or sustain on.”
Being able to fine-tune processes and prepare for JRTC while also following COVID-19 safety protocols to ensure the safety of the Soldiers during training was incredibly important, said Gabriel.
“JRTC is really just a steppingstone for accomplishing our missions for the Army and our country, preparing us to do what our nation needs us to do,” Gabriel said. “Our leaders in the Army have been balancing our requirements to maintain our readiness and our ability to deploy and fight for our country, while also protecting the Soldiers, leaders and Families within the Army. It’s a tough thing to tackle. So now we’re building our readiness up again while implementing certain activities and restrictions to protect ourselves.”
The safety of the Soldiers training remained essential during the four-day exercise.
“We maintained social distancing by keeping masks on when we could not social distance,” said Cpt. Marttin Periola, commander of A Co., 2-502nd Inf. Regt. “We continually sanitized our hands and equipment to ensure we didn’t spread germs. We also relied on our medics to take body temperatures and ensure they were identifying any signs or symptoms of COVID-19. This enabled us to go forward in our operations with little hinderance and were able to hit all of our training objectives.”
Gabriel said he saw overwhelming enthusiasm from his Strike Soldiers during the entire exercise, many commenting on how good it felt to be back together as one team.
“We haven’t had a battalion-level formation since early March,” he said. “The Soldiers and the leaders took it upon themselves to maintain their physical readiness and tactical skills during the three months we were apart, and it showed out here. We didn’t fall back. They did a fantastic job in the last few months.”
The Soldiers were very eager to return to larger, collective training after having to train in squads in the early months of the pandemic.
“This was a great opportunity for Soldiers to get out here and shake the cobwebs off,” said Cpt. Giovanni Tomasi, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-502nf Inf. Regt. “My first sergeant kept remarking how high the morale was. Usually when you’re in an intense training cycle in the field the Soldiers start to get a little weary as you get closer to JRTC. The exception to this was we had three months of individual and small team-level training, so overall the Soldiers were very excited to be back and operating together.”
Tomasi said Soldiers and leaders maximized the opportunity to use the early months of the pandemic to hone in on individual training and more specific tasks that do not always get allotted much time.
“Our readiness is much higher coming out of this,” he said. “I think the enthusiasm is going to continue building, I think everyone is excited to build on what we’ve learned out here and go face the opposing forces at JRTC this coming August and show them what we’ve got.”