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Indiana's 'Nighthawks' spring into Joint Readiness Training Center

By Maj. Christopher Matthews | 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team | April 21, 2017

EDINBURGH, Ind. — Indiana National Guard Soldiers with the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conducted their final training exercise at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, before heading to their Joint Readiness Training Center rotation at Fort Polk, Louisiana, later this summer.

Approximately 2,200 Soldiers with the brigade, nicknamed the Nighthawk Brigade, attended a six-day training to exercise their capabilities and skillsets.

Considering this is the final training exercise prior to JRTC, Col. Robert Burke, the 76th IBCT commander, assessed his unit's readiness towards being successful this summer.

"Being able to get out and see the collective training we've been doing to see what level of proficiency we are at, allows us to identify some training objectives and needs we need to do better on," said Burke. "This Spring FTX (field training exercise) has allowed us to do just that. The way we designed this Spring FTX is based around some of the expectations we can see in the training that is going to take place at JRTC this summer."

Command Sgt. Maj. Steve Bishop, 76th's senior enlisted adviser, echoed the sentiment of Burke and emphasized the importance of training and multiple repetitions. He likened the training to a football team preparing for their first big game of the season.

"Training is perishable and the only way we can keep up our proficiency on all of these tasks is through multiple reps," said Bishop. "Spring FTX gave us an opportunity to get out there and knock the rust off the tasks we haven't done recently and allowed Soldiers to gain additional training on the things we have done the last few months to be focused and prepared as we head into JRTC."

The National Guard only gets one JRTC rotation every year. So when a brigade is called upon, it is vital for Soldiers to perform at their best. However this doesn't concern Burke as he saw this upcoming rotation as an opportunity to showcase the brigade and all of its capabilities.

"To be selected is an honor and the last time the 76th IBCT went to JRTC was in 2000," said Burke. "A JRTC rotation puts you right at the top going into your available year, and the brigade is going to be at a higher level of readiness coming out of JRTC than any of the other infantry brigades in the National Guard. Because of that the 76th has been selected to be the first brigade from the National Guard to provide mission command over a Pacific Pathway three month rotation in 2018."

The brigade has been planning this training exercise in preparation of JRTC for nearly two years. As the final months wind down, the focus shifts from training to logistics, staying poised and maintaining proficiency.

"We were selected for JRTC back in March 2015; we've had two years to prepare," said Burke. "But when you add up all the training days it's probably less than three months. The Spring FTX allowed the brigade, as a whole, to fight together in a collective environment to include the logistical aspect of what we will be doing at JRTC."

Burke said that after a long, hard six-day exercise, now is the time to get ready and take the lessons learned from this exercise and to apply to the JRTC rotation as they move into the final months.

"Soldiers are getting themselves physically and mentally prepared," said Bishop. "Getting themselves and their equipment prepped and ready to be put on the road and get into the fight at JRTC."

Bishop said the training at JRTC gives Soldiers the opportunity to hone their craft and further their careers. They will be able to draw back on these experiences to teach future generations of Soldiers.

"Soldiers are excited to get out and see what the challenge is all about," said Bishop. "I think that is why all of us joined, to go out and practice our craft and make sure we are excellent warfighters."

Bishop said Citizen-Soldiers have one of the most unique missions in all the armed services as our service in the Army is only considered part-time but we also find ways to balance our families, full-time jobs, and go to school.

"I am extremely proud of them and all of the teamwork to get us to where we are at today," said Burke. "We are held to the same expectations as our active-duty peers and the infantry brigade combat teams of active-duty units. We are doing this as part-time Soldiers, we have full-time jobs and other competing events that are active-duty brothers do not."

Their contributions to the team and how they are able to handle all of their extra responsibilities is something that definitely does not go unnoticed from the top leadership in the brigade.

"Every time we get a chance to go out and see Soldiers, I am more and more impressed on their ability to balance their family life, civilian employers and their service to our nation," said Bishop. "We are extremely proud of what they do and how much they contribute to the team in the defense of our nation."

Besides the Soldiers themselves, families also sacrifice time with their loved ones demonstrating unwavering support allowing citizen-Soldiers to achieve an honor like JRTC.

"Without our family's strong support back home we would not be able to serve without them," said Burke.

National Guard troops are often called upon to fight America's wars, secure the homeland, and build partnerships.

"We don't serve for the money. They are serving to serve their country, which also requires an extreme amount of sacrifice not only from the Soldier but the families and employers back home," said Bishop. "We are grateful for the sacrifice they are able to give and allow us to answer the call when called upon from our nation."

The JRTC rotations is in a few months and Burke is confident the Nighthawk Brigade Soldiers will once again be successful in its mission as one of the premier infantry brigade combat teams in all of the U.S. Army.