A military training exercise being conducted at Fort Chaffee provides area National Guardsmen with real-life scenarios similar to combat missions overseas.
A population of nearly 3,500 soldiers from the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Arkansas Army National Guard has taken up residence at the Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center as the base plays host to the eXportable Combat Training Capability for the first time in seven years.
The three-week exercise, which began June 1, has been used by the Army National Guard since 2005 to train its brigades. It is designed to be a cost- and time-efficient option for delivering combat readiness training to soldiers at or near their home stations.
The National Guard selects units to participate in the event, based on where they are in their training cycle, so the opportunity is welcomed by the 39th Infantry Brigade.
"Everything we do here drives toward readiness," said Lt. Col. Joel Lynch, public affairs officer for the Arkansas National Guard. "It doesn’t happen too often, so this is a big deal and kind of like ‘the big game’ for a lot of these guys."
The 39th Infantry Brigade, headquartered at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in North Little Rock and makes up 44 percent of the state’s Army force, is the focus of the training, but an additional 500 active duty and National Guard soldiers from other units are on base taking part in the exercise.
The process for the exercise began a year ago when Infantry Brigade began meeting with the Army National Guard to develop training criteria to fine tune the details and set a training schedule.
Throughout the course of a typical day, anywhere from 20 to 27 different training exercises are conducted, all of which are monitored electronically in a control room, where individual units and squadron commanders are able to go back and review with the Guardsmen.
On Friday, media were able to observe the training in action.
At Carnis Village, an area of the base set up to mimic a real-life urban area, platoon units conducted a movement-to-contact urban tactical drill in which soldiers, under the advisement of their platoon chief, searched for enemy forces, while keeping civilians safe.
Staff Sgt. Lance Gainey, who joined the National Guard in 2011 and has deployed to Iraq, said the exercise is "realistic, value-added training" that prepares soldiers for combat.
As about 90 percent of the soldiers of the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team have civilian jobs, the training opportunity is beneficial, especially for those who are new to the Guard, or who have never seen combat.
"It’s been a great experience and has been good training for me," said Spc. Joshua Rogers, a 21-year-old junior at Henderson State University. Rogers, a computer science major originally from Washington state, said he joined the National Guard three years ago, and said although he’s never been deployed, the skills he has developed as a result of the XCTC training could one day save his life.
In another exercise Friday, soldiers with the 1st Battalion of the 206th Field Artillery Regiment conducted a live-fire exercise using 105mm howitzer artillery, in which crews work as a team to fire at targets more than 6 miles away.
As with any of the other activities during the three-week training, the training opportunity is rare and the units are eager to participate.
The event also provides a boost to the local economy. In addition to the military personnel, at least 250 local people have been hired to perform jobs such as role players, special effects coordinators, fuel and logistical personnel, equipment maintainers and other, more specialized positions, according to a news release.
Though the participating Guardsmen set up camp on base, the civilians and contractors used during the training stay at local hotels and eat at local restaurants and drive rented vehicles.
Local lumber and hardware suppliers were utilized in the construction of the new temporary buildings for the training program.
The training will conclude next week.