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First combat training capability enhances relationships

By Spc. Charlotte Carulli | July 3, 2018

FORT DRUM, N.Y. - Approximately 3,500 Soldiers from the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the National Guard and the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) partnered together to complete their first eXportable Combat Training Capability, or XCTC, rotation to coincide with the Army's directive two-week long joint pilot training program, known as the Associated Units Program, June 6 to 19.

Shortly after the pilot program initiative was released in March 2016, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said, "Associated Units pilot allows us to leverage the capabilities of the Active Component, Army Reserve and the Army National Guard as one Army."

Active Soldiers from Fort Drum's 1st Brigade and the National Guard joined forces to complete intensive training exercises and drills under the XCTC program, which is designed to ensure mission readiness for deployment and to create a more cohesive Army.

"We attempted to replicate many of the conditions found at the Joint Readiness Training Center by focusing on lethality, agile mission command and an expeditionary mindset, all as articulated by Maj. Gen. Piatt," said Army National Guard Col. Nathan F. Lord, 86th Mountain brigade commander.

The training is also completed to develop stronger camaraderie and understanding among the troops.

"If we were to deploy down range, there's a good chance that the guys in the Vermont [National] Guard or the guys in the Colorado [National] Guard could be down there with us, and to have that shared understanding of how we fight. It's pretty important," said Army Lt. Will Smith, the company observer controller trainer.

Soldiers engaged in a realistic war simulation, called opposing forces, to ensure deployment and mission readiness. The exercise's purpose was to simulate a near-peer threat and to give the Soldiers a realistic look at what it would be like to fight in a decisive conflict, Smith said.

The acting enemy forces dressed in old military uniforms to provide a more realistic simulation.

"Many of the enemies of the United States, when you look at what they wear, they often wear old Army equipment, so they had the chocolate chips on, old BDUs [battle dress uniform] on," Smith said. "They weren't in traditional Army garb. I think every fighting force does their own thing and as long as they look different, that's really what matters."

Other exercises included platoon situational training exercises lanes, day and night platoon live-fire exercises, mounted gunnery, field artillery live fires and and air assault raids, staff command post exercises and battle drills, missile and shoulder-fired rockets training and sniper live-fire range training, Lord said.

"They were working on platoon attacks, company defense, platoon defense, movement to contact. The things that solidify us as infantrymen," Smith said.

There were some improvements that could be made to the program to mutually benefit the National Guard and the active-duty Soldiers.

"They did get a lot of individual Soldier training, but it would have been good to do more cohesive platoon training. The National Guard would have gotten a more cohesive look. It would have been an actual platoon they would have been fighting," said Smith.

However, both leaders found the training to be valuable and necessary overall, and they feel the Soldiers are more mission ready because of the rigorous training.

"I believe the 86th and 10th Mountain's relationship is the model for AUP. Across the spectrum, the Soldiers and leaders of the 86th benefited from over the shoulder mentoring and coaching by 10th Mountain in a peer type relationship," Lord said. "Numerous pockets of unanticipated readiness building opportunities were discovered at all levels."

The testing of the pilot program will last three years from its announcement date in March 2016, and will then be reviewed and fully implemented in 2019.