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Army National Guard Soldiers enjoy their role-play in Combined Resolve VIII

By 1st Sgt. Steven Markowski | Pennsylvania National Guard | June 15, 2017

HOHENFELS, Germany - Readiness is a core value and a constant goal of the Army. That's why Soldiers go through so many realistic training scenarios in order to be fully prepared for any challenge or opportunity. When training, however, how can the Army realistically simulate an enemy force so that U.S. Soldiers will know how to react when they actually meet the enemy in the field?

That's where the National Guard comes in as a vital component of the Total Army. As part of its worldwide presence, the National Guard regularly travels around the globe to assist and participate in training exercises with fellow Soldiers. One such support role that the National Guard fulfills is that of playing opposing forces (OPFOR) at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Europe.

The 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, has been performing the OPFOR role here since 1990, with many deployments across the world during those years. Currently, Army National Guard and Army Reserve units augment the host regiment to go up against active component units, such as the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division which is leading the task force for Combined Resolve VIII.

"For every rotation that comes through, we get National Guard units to play OPFOR. And every time they perform very well. So, it works out for all of us," said Lt. Col. Matthew Archambault, commander of 1st Battalion, 4th Regiment at JMRC.

In each rotation, approximately 200 National Guard Soldiers and 100 U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers participate, he said.

This participation make it possible for the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment to create the most realistic training environment possible in order to train other units for real-world possibilities. Combat troops from the Guard and Reserve provided a realistic, near-peer enemy during CR VIII.

"Any opportunity we get to have the Total Army working together is great, and it makes everyone better. Here they fight against a regular Army brigade and it's a real scenario in a multinational environment," Archambault said.

In this case, the commitment to participate in JMRC exercises added an additional week to a Reserve Component's normal 15-day annual training period. Some units spent as many as 22 days on orders so they could play OPFOR.

"There's nothing more important than seeing the Citizen-Soldiers show up and watching them give their all. They're very motivated and they put everything into their annual training period," Archambault said. "Besides, every war we've won, it's been with Citizen-Soldiers fighting."

One of the National Guard units playing OPFOR in Combined Resolve VIII has been an operating unit longer than the United States has existed. The 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment, traces its roots to an early militia founded back in 1636. The battalion is proudly known as "The Nation's First."

"We're serving as organic, attached units. The scenario has us set up as light infantry, going up against a superior tank force," said 1st Sgt. Jeff Cesaitis, of B Company, 1st Battalion, 82nd Infantry Regiment. "Our guys are loving it - playing OPFOR."

"The value (of a combat training center rotation) for the Guard is unmatched," said Capt. Tom Messer, commander of B Company, 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment, who in his civilian life is a full-time firefighter. "Here we have resources, the opponents, the men and the equipment to make it more realistic. (JMRC) can simulate a near-peer enemy. It's something we're not going to get in a normal two-week annual training."

"It's a great opportunity to develop young leaders to maneuver the platoons against an opponent in a combat training center rotation that is truly a leadership development tool. You can't possibly fail because you will always learn something," Messer said.

OPFOR infantry were supported by the 870th Engineer Company (Sapper), Florida Army National Guard and the 104th Area Support Medical Company, Maryland Army National Guard.

"Our mission as OPFOR is the same as usual: breach obstacles in the attack phase, construct obstacles as part of the counter attack and fight as infantry through all of that," said Capt. Tristan Trivetts, commander of the 870th Engineer Company. He said the environment allows for training opportunities that are not usually available back home.

"We can execute tasks that we cannot do at home, such as having thousands of mines at our disposal and the ability to set up an obstacle that will stop an M-1 Abrams tank. If we can slow down the enemy, then we have done our mission," Trivetts said.

Combined Resolve VIII is a multinational exercise designed to train the Army's Regionally Allocated Forces that are attached to the U.S. European Command. U.S. Soldiers have been training alongside more than 3,400 participants from 10 nations, promoting stability and security in the region. National Guard Soldiers said they enjoy the international atmosphere. Most of all, however, they value the realistic training.

"Talking to guys from Hungary and Albania is really good, and it's good to get new scenery in such a great training environment," said Spc. Adam Spencer, a rifleman with B Company, 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment, adding that he also had the opportunity to fire a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, a rare opportunity for a U.S. Soldier. "It's not every day that I get to carry an RPG and an M4 rifle at the same time."

Several Soldiers from other companies within the 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment joined B Company for this annual training mission in order to gain experience they would likely not receive outside of a combat training center rotation.

"I volunteered to get extra training," said Spc. Marcel Louhisdon, a member of A Company. "It's good to work with different guys and get different perspectives."

"I'll take any Army training I can get. It makes you a better Soldier," added Spc. Alejandro Puente, of A Company. "I can take knowledge that I learned here and give it to my company."