BOVINGTON, England - Britain's historic Salisbury Plain has witnessed many wars that were waged on its vast salt grass covered rolling hills over many centuries.
But recently American and British soldiers tested their mettle against the torrential rain and heat during the unusually hot summer as they battled a fictitious enemy’s opposing force during the largest bilateral military training exercise to take place in southern England since World War II.
Soldiers of the 56th Brigade (Task Force Thunder), 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, were in the England to participate in a unit exchange program with their counter-parts of the United Kingdom's Royal Wessex Yeomanry, British Territorial Army (TA) Regiment, July 15-29.
The two-week exercise, which took place primarily at the Royal Armor Corps Training Center, included weapons familiarization with the various British Army small arms such as the SA80A2 5.56 mm rifle, the Browning 9 mm pistol and the L7A2 7.62 mm General Purpose Machine Gun, which the British call “The Gimpy.”
The Guardsmen were also given an impressive firepower demonstration by the Royal Armor Corps with its Challenger II main battle tank and the Warrior and Spartan armored fighting vehicle at the Bindon Tank Range, located at Lowworth.
During the deployment, 56th Brigade Soldiers, of whom many have just recently returned from a year long deployment to Iraq, had an opportunity to tour various British cultural and historic sites including the Stonehenge archaeological grounds located on the Salisbury Plain and the Royal Buckingham Palace in London.
The Soldiers also visited the World War II Normandy American Cemetery located in Colleville sur Mer, France, to pay their respects to the more than 9,387 American service members interred there, many of whom lost their lives during the Allied landing on Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold and Juno beaches on D-Day, June 6, 1944, as part of Operation Overlord.
Maj. Gregory M. Barrow, of Fort Worth, Texas, and task force commander, explained that the British TA performs a similar role as that of the National Guard in that they are a ready reserve force for the Royal Army. He said the joint exercise was a great opportunity for both American Soldiers and British soldiers to work together in a field environment and show each other their tactics, techniques and procedures.
"I think this is a great training opportunity for our Soldiers to get a chance and travel outside of the U.S. and train with the British soldiers and learn about the way that they operate and also immerse themselves in their culture," Major Barrow said.
The major added that he was very impressed with the level of professionalism and hospitality shown by the Royal Wessex Yeomanry, who were hosting his Soldiers during their stay in Great Britain, and that he hopes to show the same hospitality to them in return when a contingent of British soldiers go to train with them in Texas.
"The TA is a very professional and capable organization for the role that they perform as part of the Royal Army,” Major Barrow said. “We want to show them our capabilities as an Army National Guard unit and the historic sites in Texas, such as the Alamo, that we are very proud of when they visit the U.S. later in the fall -- just as they have shown us about the sites in their country.”
Sgt. Robert J. Wolfe, of Borger, Texas, and an infantryman of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment, based in Midland, Texas, spent a year in Iraq performing dangerous convoy escort missions in a heavily armored HMMWV, said that the training in Great Britain helped him re-sharpened his infantry skills.
Sergeant Wolfe acknowledged that there were some differences in language and tactical procedures between the American and British units. However, he said, they were able to learn from each other during the training exercise, and he knows this will benefit them both if they should work together again in future deployments because they'll already be familiar with some of the British weapons and operational procedures.
"It's great to be able to work with the British soldiers in their country because the bond that we've developed will be everlasting," Sergeant Wolfe said.
Pvt. Lee R. Deacon, of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry, C Squadron, Rifle Volunteers, based in Devon, England, described the training as very tough and realistic, and despite the fact this was the first time he trained with U.S. Soldiers, he thought they all worked well together to complete their assigned missions.
"The American Soldiers have a lot in common with us tactically,” Private Deacon said. “Even though there are some slight differences in the way they issue their orders and control their weapons, we all worked together as one team and got the job done."