Idaho Army National Guard troops head to California for elite training
jsowell@idahostatesman.comAugust 7, 2015

The largest deployment of Idaho Army National Guard soldiers since the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team went to Iraq in 2010-11 is taking place this month in California’s Mojave Desert.

More than 2,500 soldiers from across Idaho and additional National Guard troops from Eastern Oregon and Montana, are taking part in advanced training at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin. The exercises, what organizers are calling the “most realistic training event” the troops can expect to participate in, will also involve, for the first time, active-duty and Army reserve units all working together.

“It’s a big deal for us because this is an opportunity for the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team to train in the same way they would be expected to fight (in an overseas combat situation),” said Col. Tim Marsano, Idaho Army National Guard spokesman.

Tanks and other armored vehicles and specialized equipment were loaded onto a rail car and shipped last week to Fort Irwin in Southern California. The troops followed, with training exercises beginning Friday and continuing through Aug. 27.

“The soldiers of the brigade have worked hard for the last four years to prepare for this rotation and I’m certain they will uphold the 116th’s reputation as a premier Army National Guard unit,” said Col. Russ Johnson, the combat team’s commander.

When the 116th last took part in desert warfare training at the National Training Center in 1998, it was only the second time a National Guard brigade had been invited there.

The 116th’s performance exceeded the Army’s expectations and shattered many of the negative stereotypes associated with the abilities and readiness of National Guard units, Marsano said. The brigade won two of four battles and tied in a third against active-duty troops.

“We haven’t done anything like that with this kind of equipment since then,” Marsano said.

When Idaho Army National Guard troops were deployed to Iraq on yearlong rotations in 2004 and again in 2010, they essentially became foot soldiers, Marsano said.

“They were essentially taken out of their tanks, out of their self-propelled artillery pieces, out of their Bradley fighting vehicles and be on the ground, boots on the ground, to take care of the non-conventional warfare they faced,” Marsano said. “It was the same situation for a number of military units were in that same situation —leaving behind the heavy equipment they were trained on and joined the military for — to become, essentially, infantry troops on the ground.

The training exercises will give the National Guard troops experience under simulated wartime conditions with their heavy equipment.

In June, troops conducted advance training with Bradley Fighting Vehicles on the Orchard Combat Training Center on the high prairie south of Gowen Field. Four Bradley vehicles moved downrange and conducted coordinating firing on targets.

A larger, company-sized gunnery with the Bradley vehicles will take place at the California training center, among other exercises. Idaho Army Guard units have never performed the exercise on a company level before.

A rotation at the National Training Center is the Army’s most sought-after training event, Marsano said. The last time a National Guard unit was invited to the center was 15 years ago.