By Staff Sgt. Les Newport, Indiana National Guard
The Indiana National Guard’s 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team is fully engaged, according to Col. Cory Carr, brigade commander.
The IBCT is one of four Army National Guard brigades that has received alert orders for 2008 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, bringing as many as 14,000 additional National Guard Soldiers to the struggling region.
“As I’ve met with the Soldiers of the brigade, I continue to be impressed with their skills, their commitment and motivation,” said Carr. “The experience of our officers and non commissioned officers compliments the motivation, morale, and capability of our Soldiers.”
In an effort to minimize long deployments of reserve component units, the brigade recently finished the first of several training periods focused on individual pre-mobilization training.
“That’s the most challenging task,” said Capt. Richard Fantozzi, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 76th Brigade, “setting the conditions and securing the best trainer to ensure that we are to standard.”
Trainers from the Indiana National Guard’s 38th Infantry Division, First Army’s 205th Training Support Brigade, and civilian contractors have instructed courses for 2,300 members of the brigade when necessary, but the 76th IBCT has been able to muster qualified trainers from their own ranks in most cases.
Spc. Chad Ayinde was a high school and college wrestling stand out and a natural instructor for Army Combatives Training. An assistant wrestling coach at New Castle Chrysler High School, the infantryman drew on his considerable grappling skills to bring the unit up to speed on Army close quarters hand-to-hand combat techniques.
“It’s learning to tap into an inner strength. (Soldiers) learn that you can give more than what you think you’re able to,” said Ayinde.
As in much of the training, Ayinde’s combatives class was held during an oppressive heat wave and high humidity that affected much of the country with heat indexes rising well past 100 degrees.
Ayinde said his wrestling experience also gave him a sound foundation for service in the National Guard: “Like the military, it’s such a testing environment.”
In a more technical arena, Maj. Justin Mann was able to provide insight on a new small- arms sighting system that was issued to the unit.
Mann is a weapons development manager with Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane, a southern Indiana facility that specializes in acquisition and support of electronics, ordnance and electronic warfighting products and systems.
“The M68 is a close combat optic, an aim and point system,” said Mann. It gives our Soldiers an added capability to shoot accurately and faster.”
Mann spent one-on-one time with several Soldiers on Camp Atterbury’s firing ranges as they became familiar with the new technology while qualifying with M4 Carbines. Mann said he watched as Soldiers grew more confident in their weapons and the M68.
“Once they understand that the fundamentals are the same, they realize all they have to do is place that red dot on the target,” said Mann.
Fantozzi says the M68 is just one example of the technology that is available throughout the brigade, systems that were not available during his first deployment to Iraq in 2003.
“That’s the biggest difference. We’re surrounded by it,” said Fantozzi as he clicked off technological advances that will affect the way every section of the brigade will do business.
Fantozzi said the fielding of new equipment is a double-edged sword, giving his Soldiers a whole new set of tools to work with, but requiring a whole new set of advanced skills to use them effectively.
The company commander says the resources provided by Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, a National Guard facility federalized to support the training of reserve component forces, have been invaluable to meet the brigade’s training goals.
“I’m sure most of my (Soldiers) are not fully aware, but we are very fortunate to be able to pre-mob at Camp Atterbury,” said Fantozzi. “The goal of completing these tasks is so important.”
Capt. Gary Blagburn brings experience from his civilian profession as an administrative captain with the Fishers Police Department just north of Indianapolis, as well as having returned from a deployment in Iraq just 19 months ago.
Blagburn was Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander of the 939th Military Police Detachment, a unit that served in Balad and Baghdad Iraq. The unit was the first Indiana National Guard unit to receive the Presidential Meritorious Unit Citation Award since Viet Nam.
This will be the military police officer’s first tour with an Army Infantry unit, but he says he is already impressed with brigade’s motivation to tackle and accomplish a task.
“It’s been an eye-opener,” said Blagburn. “We will definitely be successful. If the NCOs stay motivated and the brigade maintains this constant vigilance, we’re good.”