ORCHARD COMBAT TRAINING CENTER, Idaho –
As thunderstorms roll across the Idaho desert, rain saturates everything in its path and bolts of electricity illuminate the evening sky. Nature's temper tantrums typically resonate in this desolate area, but this year, as part of Western Strike 22, the overpowering force echoing through the vast sagebrush steppe is the vicious roar of America’s Thunder.
Units from the 65th Field Artillery Brigade, Utah National Guard, rocked the Idaho landscape in a barrage of awe-inspiring firepower. Soldiers from California, Iowa, North Carolina, and Utah assembled near Boise, Idaho at Orchard Combat Training Center to share knowledge, experience, and build camaraderie amongst a force of approximately 2,000 Soldiers. In addition to their battalions, the 65th FAB was also accompanied by aviation Soldiers from Utah, and active-duty Soldiers from Texas and Washington. Each component was summoned by the 65th FAB for one simple reason: to train and build a force that is ready to deploy at a moment's notice.
“The 65th FAB has spent 15 months planning and preparing for Western Strike 22, which will focus on mastery of the fundamentals at the platoon and squad level in preparation for large-scale combat operations,” said Col. Shawn Fuellenbach, commander of the 65th Field Artillery Brigade. “My training objective for America’s Thunder is to build lethal, cohesive teams that are highly trained and disciplined, ready to fight and win.”
Soldiers face rigorous and comprehensive training that included evaluation of platoon-level mission essential tasks, live-fire proficiency evaluations, situational training and a highly skilled uncooperative oppositional force composed of active-duty Army and National Guard Soldiers. The Soldiers of the 65th FAB pulled upon knowledge and experience of their fellow Guard members in order to successfully complete their battle tasks and exercises. Sgt. William Smith, a fire support team member with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 65th FAB, says he is receiving new insight as he trains and builds comradery with his partners from the North Carolina National Guard.
“They've taught us so much that we didn't know,” said Smith. “You have guys training each other up on stuff they do pretty often, so we are helping each other to become better teams.”
The exchange of information between battalions of the 65th FAB helps prepare the brigade for mobilizations, but limited training days can lead to the diminished effectiveness of those skills and utilization of standard operating procedures.
Cpt. Edgar Larin, an observer-controller-trainer with 1-357th Brigade Support Battalion, 189th Infantry Brigade, provides evaluations as well as formal and informal reviews of their mission-essential tasks, and says that the National Guard units are eager to improve their execution.
“They are very receptive to feedback. I am seeing in real time that they are fixing those things that we see as potential vulnerabilities,” said Larin. “My expectations are that they will continue to get better. ”
Fixing mistakes and continuing a pattern of growth is the expectation of battalions across the 65th FAB. Capt. Joe Rhodes, commander of Bravo Battery, 145th Field Artillery, says that the knowledge and skills obtained during Western Strike 22 are invaluable to his unit.
“Getting feedback from our active-duty counterparts has been the best,” said Rhodes. “They have a ton of experience they can bring to us and watching my Soldiers grow over the last three-to-four days of training with them has been incredibly beneficial to everybody in this unit.”
Extensive and thorough exercises that allow units to flourish in a real-world training environment amongst a range of professionals is hard to come by, said Col. Christine Brooks, commander of the 734th Regional Support Group.
“This training exercise is giving them some realistic training that they haven't had in a while,” said Brooks. “It gives them the opportunity to coordinate with other units to their right and left and understand how each piece fits with one another to create a battle rhythm and op tempo.”
Brooks further explained.
“We never know when our next mission set is going to require the engineers, or require demo, or require sapper assets,” said Brooks. “This training refines things for them so they can fit within an area of operation to be effective, and be that combat multiplier for whoever they fall underneath.”
For America’s Thunder, maintaining readiness and a steady battle rhythm is paramount. Not unlike facing a downpour in the desert without any cover, deployments are storms not to be encountered without preparation.