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N.Y. Soldiers hone combat marksmanship skills in Puerto Rico

By Sgt. Alexander Rector | New York National Guard | April 18, 2019

CAMP SANTIAGO, Puerto Rico – More than 80 New York Army National Guard Soldiers from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, traveled to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to conduct marksmanship training April 11-13.

The Soldiers, who stayed in Puerto Rico for four days, were flown to the island by a pair of C-130 Hercules operated by the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing from Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia.

Upon arriving in Puerto Rico, the Soldiers, who are based at the Lexington Avenue Armory in New York City, traveled to Camp Santiago and set to work honing their warfighting skills.

Camp Santiago, known as Campamento Santiago in Spanish, is the primary training site for the Puerto Rico National Guard. The camp has state of the art ranges and other training areas. The camp is named after Spc. Héctor Santiago Colón from Salinas, Puerto Rico, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously during the Vietnam War after shielding other Soldiers from a grenade explosion with his body.

“We started at first light and confirmed that the whole company's rifles were zeroed,” said 1st Lt. Matthew Canavan, one of the company’s platoon leaders. After the zeros were confirmed, the real training began; consisting of a reflexive fire shoot and a stress shoot.

For the reflexive fire, the Soldiers were tasked with identifying and engaging targets at ranges from 5 to 25 meters while stationary and then while turning and walking.

“For the reflexive fire, the Soldiers use facing movements and controlled shots. Instead of taking single shots, they are shooting, moving, and communicating,” Canavan explained. “We kept the squads and the fire teams organic with everyone who will be present at annual training, and we had them moving as a team.”

The reflexive fire exercise, which reinforces the fundamentals of short-range marksmanship, was followed by the stress shoot, which is demanding both mentally and physically, Canavan said.

“The stress shoot involves getting a Soldier's heart rate up as it would be in combat,” Canavan said. “We took each squad and had them run a quarter mile and then had them conduct push-ups, flutter kicks, and burpees so we could tire out their muscles.”

Once the Soldiers were tired and fatigued the shooting began. “We took them onto the range and started giving them commands from the tower,” Canavan said. “So not only are they fatigued, now they need to pay attention to commands.”

During the stress shoot, the Soldiers engaged a variety of targets in quick succession from the standing, kneeling, and prone positions.

“It's designed to mimic the stress of combat,” Canavan said. “It boils down to what will happen in a fight. They need to listen to the team leader.”

Traveling over 1,600 miles to a different climate and working in an unfamiliar training environment wasn't without its challenges and Alpha Company worked tirelessly to make sure all the moving pieces fit together.

“Myself, another platoon leader, and our company supply sergeant came down from New York two days before the main party,” Canavan said. “Our task was to get the range set up. We did a walk through with range control to get a better feel of the terrain we're working with and the quality of the ranges.”

Even though the training conducted could have been accomplished closer to home, there were many benefits for both the unit and the Soldiers to training at Camp Santiago.

“The training we received was new to me and something I definitely enjoyed,” said Pvt. 1st Class Lamar Warner, an infantryman assigned to Alpha Company, 1-69th. “As an infantryman, you are expected to operate in different locations, so it’s important to train in different locations and not always to go to the same place.”

“Soldiers going to Fort Drum day in and day out doing the same exercises, it kills retention,” Canavan said. “A second benefit is getting Soldiers used to a different type of climate.”

As an Army National Guard infantry battalion, the 69th has been called up to active duty during the war on terror, and must continue to diligently train in preparation of answering the call when needed, Canavan said.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, have deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001.

“We don't know where our next war is going to be, and we don't know what type of climate it’s going to be fought in,” Canavan said. “Getting the chance to train somewhere different is extremely beneficial. Taking the Soldiers into this hot and humid environment and having them conduct a stress shoot is very rigorous for them.”

Going from the relatively mild New York weather to the heat and humidity of Puerto Rico was a challenge to some Soldiers, but a few of the Soldiers found the trip less challenging than others.

“My family is from the Caribbean, so this weather wasn't a problem,” Warner said. “Everybody else was dying, but it didn't bother me at all."