CAMP ATTERBURY JOINT MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Ind. - Members of the command staff from the Massachusetts National Guard and a state official toured training sites and met with Mass Guard Soldiers preparing for deployment here, Sept. 23, 2010.
Brig. Gen. Thomas Sellers, land component commander, Massachusetts National Guard; Col. Randall Cordeiro, military personnel officer; Col. John Conley, deputy chief of staff; Paul Connelly, assistant undersecretary for Homeland Security; and Command Sgt. Maj. David Costa, state sergeant major, were shown various training sites utilized during the 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment, Massachusetts National Guard's preparation for deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The 181 infantry, one of the four oldest units in the nation, is currently undergoing a 72-day provincial reconstruction team training program designed to prepare them to provide security for the PRTs
The first stop was a mock Afghan village, were the distinguished visitors witnessed the realistic training provided to the deploying servicemembers. The training at the village demonstrated the steps necessary for a provincial reconstruction team to safely enter a village and meet with the tribal elders.
The mock village, though small, was packed with extra details to help immerse the Soldier in the sights, sounds and smells of Afghanistan. The village was populated with foreign nationals in traditional Afghan garb, speaking Pashto and conducting normal daily activities, such as cooking and selling goods in the market. Buildings were decorated with authentic rugs and wall hangings. Livestock was brought in to provide more realism as Soldiers had to maneuver around goats, chickens, and camels while providing security for PRT leadership conducting formal meetings with tribal leaders.
Spc. Steven Scatto, a rifleman with Company D, 181 Infantry said the training was intense and realistic. Scatto said the stress live fire and the increased number of night missions were definitively helping to prepare him for his wartime mission.
"The training is long and hard," said Staff Sgt. William Munsell, a squad leader with headquarters company, 181 Infantry. "But it's something we have to do."
Capt. John Quinn, public affairs officer for the 181st said working with actual Afghan civilians has been very helpful because the language barrier is a huge obstacle.
"Training has been great," said Quinn. “We’re getting there. The more we do, the better we get."
The next stop on the tour was a mess hall where the DVs ate meals ready-to-eat for lunch with some of the 181st Soldiers. Sellars and Costa spoke to the Soldiers during the meal, listening to their experiences at mobilization site and inquiring about any additional needs they might have.
Staff Sgt. Joseph Courchesne, headquarters company, 181 Infantry, said recent training at Camp Edwards, Mass., was very well organized and helpful but felt Camp Atterbury offered excellent ranges to conduct live fire exercises.
"We fired more than 1500 mortar rounds over three days," said Courchesne. "That's more than most have us have fired, ever."
Weapons training and immersive village scenarios aren't the only realist training for the Soldiers of the 181st, lifesaving medical training has been emphasized as well.
"There is an excellent combat lifesaver training program here," said Sgt.1st Class Efrain Quinones, medical management noncommissioned officer, 181 infantry. "We were able to have more than 440 Soldiers re-certified as combat life savers."
Quinones said more than 90 percent of the 181st has received the extra medical training proven to reduce combat fatalities.
Quinones, a 13-year Guardsman, also noted that the recent eXportable Combat Training Capabilities exercises conducted at Camp Edwards during this summer’s annual training helped prepare him for coming to mob site.
The final stop on the tour was an entry control point at the tactical training base here.
At the ECP the DVs were able to see firsthand the security measures the 181st learns to protect the forward operating bases they will occupy in Afghanistan.
The ECP stresses realism as the Soldiers are tested with scenarios during 24-hour operations ranging from pedestrian traffic to vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attacks.
The Soldiers man the gates, towers and fighting positions, as they will in theater, preparing for when these daily activities will no longer be "just training."
Connelly said he was very pleased to see the similarities to the training conducted here and Camp Edwards.
“This was a great trip,” said Connelly. This is an excellent opportunity to visit with the Soldiers and see their motivation and dedication.”
The 181st is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in the next few weeks.