Written by 1st Lt. Riley Foster
2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment
Fort McCoy, WI – In the heat of June, Soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment (2nd, 502nd), 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division prepared to rotate out to training sites as the opposition force to the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) of the Illinois Army National Guard here.
If that weren’t enough, the battalion moved directly from playing as opposing forces to conducting squad live fires and crew gunnery to prepare for follow-on training back at Fort Campbell, KY.
The “Strike Force” battalion deployed to Fort McCoy in early June to support the Exportable Combat Training Capability, or XCTC, Exercise. The 2nd, 502nd’s role is to provide opposition forces to hone the 33rd IBCT Soldiers’ warfighting capability.
While primarily focused on preparing the 33rd Soldiers for their future rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), the training event poses unique opportunities for 2nd, 502nd Soldiers to train in an unfamiliar area and focus on squad-level tactics.
Lt. Col. Adam Sawyer, 2nd, 502nd battalion commander, emphasized the importance of supporting the 33rd IBCT and helping them to improve.
“Our primary focus for being here is to help train the 33rd IBCT and ensure they leave XCTC (Exercise) with an improved readiness training level,” Sawyer said.
The 2nd, 502nd supports an average of 35 situational training lanes with approximately 325 Soldiers each day while at Fort McCoy. Strike Force Soldiers further helped training by participating in after-action reviews and providing an opposition-force perspective.
Sawyer recognized the opportunity to train battalion Soldiers while at Fort McCoy and opted to bring the entire unit instead of meeting the minimum number of Soldiers required for XCTC training support. He said it was a great opportunity to take advantage of the XCTC Exercise to train the 2nd, 502nd as much as the 33rd IBCT.
“Everyone is getting the most out of this event,” Sawyer said, “Our forward support company gets training just by conducting sustainment operations and tactical (logistics packages). Our forward observers are working with the 33rd to get call-for-fire training in support of the IBCT’s live fires.”
“This has been an invaluable training experience,” Johnson said. “Getting to complete live fires on unfamiliar terrain teaches some valuable lessons we can carry forward to JRTC.”
The push to maximize training while supporting the 33rd IBCT has resulted in the most cost-effective and mutually beneficial training event that the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division has been involved in during 2017.
Following its XCTC Exercise rotation, the 2nd, 502nd will move on to platoon-level live fires in July at Fort Campbell and a rotation at JRTC in early 2018. Training events like the XCTC Exercise prepare the maneuver companies as well as smaller specialty platoons for roles in much-larger operations.
Sgt. David Hoehler, the 2nd, 502nd medical evacuation noncommissioned officer, said the capabilities the XCTC Exercise provided for the battalion’s medics was helpful.
“You’ve got the medics teaching reconnaissance Soldiers first-responder skills in return for experience in patrolling out on the lanes,” Hoehler said. “You just don’t get an opportunity to do that without obstacle at other training events.”
The XCTCF Exercise has provided the 2nd, 502nd and the 33rd IBCT with unique opportunities to build teams and prepare for upcoming challenges.
“This deployment to XCTC (training) has resulted in a great training relationship with our partners in the National Guard, while also allowing us to build our team and prepare for platoon- and company-level training in the coming months,” Sawyer said.