BEMOWO PISKIE, Poland — Once again, Soldiers with the Tennessee Army National Guard's 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment prove to be stronger than the weather and circumstances as they train through a vicious snowstorm at Bemowo Piskie Training Area, Poland.
For the past two weeks, these Soldiers who are assigned to NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP), Battle Group Poland (BGPol), participated in Operation Raider Lightning, a series of platoon level, live-fire training exercises designed to better enhance combat readiness at a moment's notice.
"There is nothing quite like a live-fire event that gives the Soldiers confidence not only in their ability to execute the task to standard, but the confidence in their weapon system that they are employing," said U.S. Army Capt. Jamie Murphy, Task Force Raider S3 shop officer in charge. "During most force-on-force standard training exercises, you have an artificial environment with an opposing force that is a thinking, dynamic enemy. The Soldiers have to develop adaptive, critical thinking skills to be able to respond to the actions their enemies are taking. These lessons are amplified when they need to take more control with their firing measures; live ammunition accelerates that into real time."
Among the weaponry systems fired were King Battery's M109A6 Paladins, which made history for being the first U.S. heavy field artillery equipment fired this far in Eastern Europe since 1945.
"Today we are doing our direct fire training," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Tommy Lane, King Battery's 2nd platoon leader. "Direct fire is something we don't normally conduct with artillery, we are usually an indirect fire system, and we have had a lot of success with it. The only challenges we have faced have been the weather, which we can't control but we can definitely overcome."
The primary mission for the allies among all eFP, battle groups to include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland is to demonstrate the alliance's solidarity, determination, and ability to act by triggering an immediate allied response to any aggression. This motive was placed into full effect during Raider Lightning as British Soldiers were given the opportunity to work and fire King Battery's Paladins with the infamous nickname King of Battle.
"We were invited out here to fire one of the coolest weapons in the world, the Paladin," said British Armed Forces Lance Cpl. Thomas Walton. "It's an unreal experience; you simply don't anticipate the power behind it until you pull the lanyard."
Raider Lightning was conducted day and night, with each setting and rising sun presenting different conflicting elements. Soldiers fought through thawing and freezing of thick stacks of snow, temperatures dropping into the single digits (factoring the windchill being even lower) and a terminology most Tennessee Soldiers had never heard before, a whiteout.
"The weather always has the primary say-so in what we can accomplish," Murphy said. "During this exercise, we faced problems with freezing thermal crossovers, or a whiteout — a problem we have encountered in the past and overcome with similar corrective actions."
Thermal crossover is a natural phenomenon that normally occurs twice daily when temperature conditions are such that there is a loss of contrast between two adjacent objects on infrared imagery.
"Working in subzero temperatures here with 100% humidity, which creates freezing fog, really impacted our ability to acquire targets," said Murphy. "Sometimes you would have visibility out to 1,000 meters or more and then in a matter of minutes your visibility would be restricted to 300 meters or less."
Most tankers and gunners use thermal optics on fire missions, day and night, to acknowledge thermal signature of what they are firing against during a combat situation.
"It's just not enough to simply be able to identify an object," continued Murphy. "You have to be able to discriminate the difference and to be fully positive before you pull the trigger, what is friendly — what is not."
These polarizing temperatures and weather conditions are the exact opposite to what the conditions these troops trained through upon deploying. Not even a full year ago, Task Force Raider Soldiers were sweat drenched, muscling the same equipment through the Mojave Desert sand dunes in California at the National Training Center for their pre-deployment training.
"This is my first time training in cold weather like this," said U.S. Army Spc. Nicholas Williams, a Task Force Raider cannoneer crewmember assigned to Battle Group Poland. "Back home, we don't really get this much snow and ice, and if we do it doesn't last long. Here, it snows just about every day and seems to last forever. I'm not used to that, but all I can do is my best — layer up and drive on."
Looking forward, Task Force Raider and Battle Group Poland will move into the next level of company live-fire, where they will attempt to achieve a proficiency over a larger scale of requirements for direct action.