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NEWS | June 21, 2024

Task Force St. Lo Soldiers Train in Czech Republic

By Staff Sgt. Jeff Clements, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

OLOMOUC REGION, Czech Republic  – Nearly 800 Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia National Guard Soldiers conducted annual training in the Czech Republic as part of Operation Immediate Response 24, a component of Steadfast Defender 24. 

The units mobilized in May for IR 24 as Task Force St. Lo, under the command of the Virginia National Guard’s Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. 

“The overall mission was for the task force to assume command of a multinational element, including active duty and reserve units as well as National Guard,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Hoffman, commander of Task Force St. Lo. “U.S. Soldiers from Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Germany, also a civil affairs element from New England. The task was to converge on the Město Libavá military training area in the Czech Republic and conduct combined arms training with the Czech military.” 

Task Force St. Lo Soldiers trained with Czech military partners, participated in a Victory in Europe celebration, planned and executed a culminating training exercise and enjoyed a cultural day. 

More than 90,000 troops, 50 ships, 80 aircraft and 1,100 combat vehicles from all 32 NATO allies joined the Steadfast Defender 24 exercise to boost readiness across different command levels. Defender stands for the Dynamic Employment of Forces to Europe for NATO Deterrence and Enhanced Readiness. The exercise showcased NATO’s ability to deploy forces from North America and the United Kingdom to support Europe. 

Lt. Col. Tom Bortner, Hoffman’s predecessor as 3rd Battalion commander; executive officer Maj. Leo Godunov, Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Mendel, the entire battalion staff, and members of the Virginia National Guard began planning this mission months ago. 

The first major event was participation in a Victory in Europe celebration May 8 in Hranice in the Olomouc Region of the Czech Republic.  

Members of the Charlottesville-based Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, conducted fire and movement drills and weapons familiarization with the Czech 72nd Mechanized Battalion.  

The task force hosted multiple distinguished visitors, including Maj. Gen. Joseph A. DiNonno, 29th Infantry Division commanding general, and Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Hawley, 29th ID command sergeant major. 

Task Force St. Lo senior leadership participated in a distinguished visitor day hosted by the Czech Republic ArmyVelká Střelná Shooting Range. U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Bijan Sabet and Brig. Gen. Wesley Murray, the 29th Infantry Division’s deputy commanding general-support, attended the event.  

The joint live-fire demonstration included members of the 72nd Mechanized Battalion, 7th Mechanized Brigade, Czech Republic Army, and members of the 1-150th Cavalry Regiment, West Virginia National Guard, 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team. West Virginia National Guard Bradley Fighting Vehicle crews maneuvered alongside Czech Republic T-72M4 tank crews, engaging multiple targets while performing armored battle drills. 

Members of the West Virginia-based 119th Sapper Engineer Company and the Kentucky-based 577th Sapper Engineer Company conducted multiple demolition and breeching ranges and trained on Soldier tasks.  

Soldiers from the Virginia Beach-based 1173rd Transportation Company, 1030th Transportation Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group, supported the task force, participating in troop movements, conducting driver training, and coordinating and moving equipment. 

The entire task force participated in a culminating training exercise with members of the Czech Republic Army’s 72nd Mechanized Battalion, 7th Mechanized Brigade May 14. 

Battalion staff conducted planning and coordinated operations along with their Czech military counterparts. Engineers emplaced obstacles, infantry and engineer units defended positions, and transportation units provided battlefield mobility during the exercise.  

“We had all these assets that we wouldn’t normally have,” Hoffman said. “Our staff was forced to analyze a real-world scenario. If you have light infantry, transportation, counter mobility and mobility assets, along with a reconnaissance force, how would you employ those in a real-world scenario?”   



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