ARLINGTON, Va. – More than 700 Soldiers with the Indiana Army National Guard's 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team took part in and operated as the task force leadership for Pacific Pathways – a series of training exercises with partner nations throughout the Pacific region – marking the first time in the four-year history of the training event a National Guard unit has served as the command and control element.
"The annual exercises are a means of building expeditionary readiness," said Command Sgt. Maj. James R. Gordon, the senior enlisted leader with the Indiana National Guard, adding they also reinforce the U.S. commitment to its allies and partners in the Pacific region.
Soldiers from the 76th IBCT served in a variety of roles throughout the series of exercises.
"Our squads, platoons and companies worked side-by-side with our Pacific allies, conducting bi-lateral training operations that will pay dividends for many years to come," Gordon said. "At the same time, our battalion and brigade staffs worked with the leadership of our allied partners, gaining the confidence and building the friendships that are always needed when retaining and building successful alliances."
The Australian, Indonesian and Japanese armed forces served as hosts for the three-month long series of exercises. For some Soldiers, the terrain itself provided training variety and challenges.
"It was very cool to have something different from Indiana, where it's nice and flat, to Japan, where we were hiking up mountains with our rucks on and going through their vegetation," said Army Sgt. Samuel Gawaluck, a squad leader with the Indiana Army Guard's Company A, 2nd Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment.
But for Gawaluck, it was a tropical storm that gave his unit an additional readiness test.
"There was a typhoon that threw the brigade a huge curveball because all of a sudden, it has to plan on moving hundreds of Soldiers and equipment and get Soldiers into living areas that could withstand the storm," he said. "We just had to adapt and be flexible, and maneuver the best we could, but it was awesome to get some unexpected training."
For Army Sgt. David Kent, an intelligence section leader with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the experience of participating in a large-scale exercise for the first time proved to be exciting.
"We were able to fill our time there with training efficiently and effectively," he said. "It really showed that the Army National Guard is more than just a reserve force – that we are operational and can be really effective in not only our home state, but overseas as well."
In addition to his regular duties of briefing intelligence reports to unit commanders, Kent received a promotion to his current rank, which meant additional responsibilities during the training exercises.
"As [Pacific] Pathways went along, I would lean on my [senior] sergeants for support," he said, adding it made him more comfortable with the greater responsibility.
Support would come from the soldiers of host nations as well.
During an exercise, Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Bollhoeffer, a platoon sergeant with the Indiana Army Guard's Company A, 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry Regiment, said an Australian counterpart, who provided assessment reports of Army Guard members in Bollhoeffer's platoon, showered the Hoosiers with adoration for their grit and determination.
"Nearing the end of our training timeline, it rained non-stop for four days and I remember my guys were really worn out and their tactical patience was starting to wear thin," he said. "But [the Australian counterpart] said he was very impressed with our company's mindset and willingness to be ready for the fight, and that we're going to remember these days when we actually do get deployed."
Bollhoeffer said that in addition to the hard work and dedication to the training mission, he would constantly remind Soldiers to savor the overall experience of being on foreign soil.
"Embrace it," he said. "The travel, the people, the culture. Take it all in, so you'll be able to come home and tell a story."