FORT IRWIN, Calif. – Oklahoma Army National Guard Soldiers tested their skills as they fought the heat and mock enemies during a month-long annual training in the desert at the National Training Center in July.
"I think it's significant that our light infantry forces attend NTC because we can train and see where we are lacking when fighting in the field," said Capt. Michael Smith, company commander, Civil Affairs Battalion, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oklahoma Army National Guard.
Soldiers participated in simulated combat in mock cities, including Razish and Ujen, around the Mojave Desert in Fort Irwin.
"I think the first time that a young sergeant or lieutenant is in combat shouldn't be for real," said Brig. Gen. Tommy Mancino, assistant adjutant general, Oklahoma Army National Guard. "This gives them the chance to experience the chaos of battle and learn command and control and other techniques that they only can do during a simulation like this."
Opposition forces on the Fort Irwin post are Soldiers trained year-round to mimic organizations Army forces could encounter on deployment. Oklahoma National Guard Soldiers maneuvered through buildings guarded by opposition forces during simulated battles to take mock cities as they would in real combat.
"As the OPFOR, we more or less play the enemy as an organized militia, and it creates a realistic training environment so if Guardsmen go on deployment, they can react to the same kind of organization that we are trying to replicate," said Cpl. Kylan Moore, OPFOR, 1st platoon, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Irwin. "They'll be better prepared and more experienced when the time comes to save their battle buddy's life."
Capt. John Puckett, 1st Battalion, 160th Field Artillery Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oklahoma Army National Guard, said the Fort Irwin desert creates a unique training opportunity for Soldiers to work through problems in unfamiliar dry heat.
"We have lots of ice, dunk tanks and ice sheets to make sure everybody has resources to prevent heat casualties as we get acclimated to the temperatures," said Puckett.
The desolate open deserts provided by the NTC are meant to resemble something similar to a deployment without everyday conveniences.
"It's good to practice because when else do we get to go out in the middle of nowhere without cell phones and normal comforts," said Puckett. "I think it's a great training opportunity in that aspect where we have to use our systems and cannot bypass them in other ways."
While a standard annual training for the National Guard is two weeks in the summer, the NTC provides a nearly month-long opportunity for Soldiers to practice their skills.
"This increases readiness in general. When else do we get this much time to practice?" said Puckett. "It's a golden opportunity to practice artillery and hone our craft."
NTC offers the Soldiers that attend a chance to evaluate their own mental and physical abilities to become more proficient warriors.
"Achieving a mission, completing a job and coming together as a team to increase our craft is always going to build the unit up," said Smith. "Nothing is ever going to be perfect. There is always going to be hard times. But I think having a positive attitude and just focusing on what you can control will go a long way."