CAMP ATTERBURY JOINT MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Ind.,- More than 3,000 Soldiers of the 86th Brigade Combat Team (Mountain) of the Vermont Army National Guard have trained here in preparation for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
The unit has a three-component mission ahead of them. They will conduct joint operations with the Afghan national army as well as providing security and base operations in the Regional Command East area of operations.
"Our unit's mission will predominately be combined action," said Col. John Boyd, assistant deputy commander of the 86th BCT.
Combined action refers to U.S. and Afghan forces partnering together into a single group, working together to conduct counterinsurgency missions.
"There is really no better or faster way to build trust and relationships with your host nation troops and the people than by the close integration of forces," said 1st Lt. John Huey, 86th BCT public affairs officer. Huey said it provides a level of camaraderie between the Afghan and U.S. troops and gives the Afghans the experience they need to become proficient and self sufficient.
"Every Soldier is a mentor," said Boyd. "We will be spending a lot of time working by, with and through the Afghan national army and police."
To prepare for this combined-action mission, the 86th BCT is not only brushing up on standard Soldier skills such as rifle marksmanship, throwing hand grenades and conducting patrols in vehicles and on foot, but they also study the customs and culture of Afghanistan and take language classes to better communicate with their future comrades.
"We are guests in their country and must be sensitive to the cultural norms of their society," said Huey. "Studying customs and [the local dialect] Dari will allow Soldiers to become more comfortable when interacting with the people of Afghanistan and minimize the potential for cultural misunderstandings."
In addition to Vermont, the unit is made up of Soldiers from six other states: Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan and North Carolina.
The unit has a rich history dating back to colonial times. The 1st Battalion of the 101st Field Artillery regiment out of Massachusetts was founded Dec. 13, 1636, as the Plymouth Bay Colonial Militia and fought in the Revolutionary War. The unit later fought in Gettysburg and in the Pacific theatre during WWII and now currently in the fight against terror.
"Presently, we've deployed elements of our brigade to Iraq and Afghanistan," said Boyd. "Though the brigade as a whole has not previously deployed, more than 60 percent of the more than 3,000 Soldiers have deployed before."
In addition to the experience of the veterans in the brigade, the Soldiers of the 86th also conduct extensive mountain training. Vermont has been dubbed the "Army's Center of Excellence for Mountain Warfare." Every year, the unit conducts mountain skills training and selected Soldiers attend the Army Mountain Warfare School in Vermont.
"We do a lot of outdoor winter training," said Boyd. "Rock-climbing, ice-climbing, unit movement in restricted terrain, bivouacking; anything you would do in the summer we do it in the winter on snow-shoes and skis."
After training at Camp Atterbury, units will move on to Fort Polk, La., and complete their mobilization training. As more 86th BCT Soldiers move out to their next training station before deploying overseas, more trickle in. Camp Atterbury is working at near full capacity to deal with the large influx of deploying Soldiers.
"Since we've been here, the training has been top notch," said Boyd. "Camp Atterbury and First Army have really gone the extra distance to make sure they've worked things out for us and we can't be any happier than we are now. Camp Atterbury in particular has demonstrated a real interest in making sure that we, as a mobilizing unit, receive whatever training and support that we need.