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Home : News
NEWS | Aug. 15, 2006

Ground pounders: 11B school puts 'Infantry' in 36th Infantry Division

By Maj. Paul Pecena Task Force Falcon Public Affairs

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - When the Texas National Guard's 49th Armor Division was officially "re-flagged" as the 36th Infantry Division in a ceremony at Camp Mabry, Texas July 18, 2004, it was more than just a symbolic change of unit flags. It was the first sign of transformation in the way many Texas Army National Guard soldiers, including those deployed to Kosovo as part of Multi-National Task Force East, would do business in the future.

"It's a good idea to become a qualified infantry Soldier in today's Texas Army National Guard," said Col. Mark Campsey, MNTF(E) chief of staff. "The 36th Infantry Division's transformation will require Soldiers to fill a structure with more infantry battalions and no armor battalions. The force structure will be more versatile, capable of easily deploying to meet the needs of the governor in Homeland Defense missions or combatant commanders around the world on very short notice."

Turning this concept into a reality for National Guard Soldiers in Kosovo took some careful planning. The training plan had to be designed to accommodate Soldiers from every other Army occupation, including cooks, mechanics and tankers, but still provide a tough challenge and a solid foundation of infantry skills.

"I think folks will be surprised at the magnitude of changes that will take place in the 36th in the next few years," said Sgt. 1st Class Peter Fenimore, chief, Infantry Branch at the Texas National Guard's Regional Training Academy, Austin, Texas. "When the Soldiers complete this two-week course, they will be ready to go back home and be infantry."

Sergeant Fenimore came to Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo in May 2006 for a three-month tour. His mission: Turn more than 100 deployed Soldiers into qualified "Eleven Bravo" infantrymen. Eleven Bravo (11B) is the Army designator for a Soldier trained as an infantryman.

The first day of training starts before dawn with an Army physical fitness test and continues with land navigation training until after dark. The Soldiers are constantly challenged and given an opportunity to excel as an individual and as a team, Sergeant Fenimore said.

"The students get an individual grade in some kind of task every day, so at the end we can determine the honor graduate," Fenimore continued. "We also have the ‘Spirit of the Bayonet' award for the Soldier who shows the best initiative and motivates the other Soldiers."

The training gets progressively harder throughout the two-week course. Some of the subjects include firing a variety of infantry weapons, such as the M-203 grenade launcher, the AT-4 anti-armor rocket and the M-240 light machine gun, at the local range in Urosevac/Ferizaj. The Soldiers use a lot of live ammunition, so Spc. Scott David, a hazardous materials specialist, helps "break down" the ammunition into allotments for each shooter.

Other days are spent practicing squad movements and combat in urban environments. An empty two-story brick house just outside the Camp Bondsteel front gate serves as the scene for building clearing operations. The Soldiers practice a variety of building entry techniques, including unusual techniques like using grappling hooks to get to the top floor.

All this training takes place under the close scrutiny of Sergeant Fenimore's assistant instructors.

"This training is interesting. I usually work in the tactical operation center, so I am getting to do a lot of new things," Sgt. Joshua Newberry, Fayetteville, Ark., said. "I knew it was going to be painful so I got ready by going out on foot patrols and doing a lot of PT [physical training]."

The final exercise is a grueling eight-mile road march around the perimeter road of Camp Bondsteel.

"We kept it at eight miles because they go up Radar Hill three times," Sergeant Fenimore said. Radar Hill is infamous among Soldiers at Camp Bondsteel for its long, steep slope.

"Going up that with a 35-pound pack, load-bearing equipment, rifle, and helmet will smoke you," Sergeant Fenimore said. Nevertheless, despite the many challenges, not one Soldier has dropped out of the course, Sergeant Fenimore noted.

Graduation day brings a sense of pride in having done something worthwhile.

"It was an experience; I liked it," Spc. Eric Alejandro said. "It was good training. In fact, I wanted to keep on going."