CAMP GRAYLING JOINT MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Mich. - "All vehicles, be advised, contact right, contact right," bursts a voice over the radio. "All elements, push out of the kill zone."
Stuck in a choke point and pinned down by an unconventional warfare force, Soldiers from the Ohio National Guard's 1483rd Transportation Company, 1487th Transportation Company and 211th Maintenance Company work to defend their convoy against opposition forces (OPFOR) comprised of Soldiers from Company C, 1-148th Infantry Regiment during tactical convoy operations training June 21 here at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center in Grayling, Michigan.
"Our task is to provide realistic, tough scenarios for these units to conduct in order meet their mission essential tasks," said Cpt. Adam Fitzsimmons, commander of Company C.
Positioned on towering sand dunes to the right of the convoy, heavy machine guns wail as shell casings spit from their ejector ports, stirring up puffs of dirt with each burst of intense fire. Sgt. Patrick Ardner, a fire team leader with Company C and a Tiffin, Ohio, native, emerges wielding a simulated rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) from the backside of a hill, popping off a single round and "crippling" his target.
"Truck 2, you are down," interjects Staff Sgt. Timothy Douglass, the observer-controller-trainer (OCT) for the 1483rd. "I say again, you are down."
"Truck 3, hasty push," the convoy commander instructs.
The Guard members are evaluated on their individual warfighter readiness, as well as their ability to cohesively function as a team in order to maintain readiness to rapidly deploy.
"The biggest goal is to be able to work as a team from the higher ups all the way down to the lower enlisted and to be proficient and trained in the stuff that is life-saving out on the road and going to bring everybody home in one piece," Douglass said.
Wreaking havoc from their positions in the wood line, profiles emerge from the dense canopy, weapons still drawn as they approach cover behind rock piles alongside the convoy's path.
"Small arms (fire) from the tree line, three o'clock," comes another voice over the radio.
From behind cover, Fitzsimmons, acting as OPFOR, tosses another canister toward an M915A5 truck tractor, causing yet another element of chaos. A plume of purple smoke billows alongside the tractor truck, signaling another wounded vehicle.
"We are establishing complex ambushes and utilizing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and weapons that the enemy would use in order to replicate the scenarios that they would see overseas," said Fitzsimmons.
Having the opportunity to engage with OPFOR makes for real-world scenarios, which better test the Soldiers' abilities to adapt and overcome adverse situations in austere environments.
"It basically makes it a real world training site," said Sgt. Alex Daum, the convoy commander with the1483rd. "If you have opposition forces out here with weapons firing back, you kind of get the feel of what it might be like to be in a combat situation."
While participating in the event, the Soldiers build trust and confidence in one another, as well as better communication skills in order to prevail in drastic situations.
"Truck 3, you are down," the speaker inside the truck projects.
"All trucks form a modified block around Buckeye 3," fires back the convoy commander. "Push through the kill zone; Buckeye 3, continue hasty push."
As the opposing forces rally in the dirt road alongside the line of military vessels, the convoy maintains its steady push through the resistance.
"Buckeye 1, Buckeye 5, continue to the rally point to assess Soldiers and vehicles," advises the convoy commander.
Upon reaching their final destination, the element analyzes the total devastation and sends a nine-line medical evacuation report to higher command.
"It gets their adrenaline pumping when they get into those scenarios," said Douglass. "It makes them remember back to their battle drills and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), and that we have to do the right things in those situations."
The unit communicates their need for immediate medical support for two injured personnel in a chemical environment with possible enemy still in the area.
"Medevac, Medevac, Medevac." states a poised voice. "Deadpool 1, this is Buckeye 7, prepare to copy…"
The Guard members are evaluated on how they react to non-hostile villagers, how they maneuver their vehicles in tight spaces with little room for error, how they react to enemy contact and how the convoy commander handles tough scenarios and sends up reports.
"There are always growing pains when you have people working together who haven't done it before; it's a learning curve," Daum said. "We have a lot of young Soldiers who haven't been through it, so we are trying to get them to experience it so that they are fresh."
The Soldiers dismount their tractor trucks and heavy expanded mobility tactical truck (HEMTT) A4 wreckers to gauge the training exercise. They discuss how well the elements worked together to overcome the compounding obstacles and assess how well the OPFOR attacked the vulnerable convoy.
"They are getting there," Douglass said. "They are improving every day and taking lessons learned from the previous day."
The two-fold training scenario provided the members of Company C the environment to play the role of their adversaries while executing their own training techniques.
The scenario provides an opportunity to tackle some of the TTPs and understand which battle drills to utilize while engaging against another active force, Fitzsimmons said.
If these Soldiers were to deploy to a hostile environment, they will be better prepared to overcome any adversities they could face because of this training.
One of the Ohio Army National Guard's objectives is to be poised to excel in an uncertain, changing 21st-century global environment.