FORT IRWIN, Calif. — The 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Minnesota Army National Guard became the first rotational training unit at the National Training Center (NTC) since the brief pause in training last March due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
As the NTC continues to train the force while implementing safeguards and protections to mitigate a potential spread of COVID-19, Brig. Gen. David Lesperance, Commander of the National Training Center, said the conditions-based measures that have been established against the virus are proving to be successful and enable the NTC to resume rotational training.
“COVID mitigations are in place and are proving to be effective. The Army’s top priority is readiness and Soldiers must still train for possible deployment to combat areas,” said Lesperance during a recent visit with Gen. James McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army, “We remain committed to the safety and wellbeing of our soldiers, while we ready our force for future deployments.”
During this rotation, the mitigation measures against the virus with 1/34 ABCT started at their home station as Soldiers were put through coronavirus mitigation protocols before arriving at the NTC, to include COVID testing, daily screenings, wearing protective equipment and physical distancing.
According to McConville, the U.S. Army Minnesota National Guard has faced many challenges recently, which will better prepare them for future operations. “COVID has really created the fog and friction we often see in combat and it’s real,” said McConville “Taking a brigade that’s been at ground zero for COVID-19 and bringing them out here, puts them in a position to learn and prove their readiness for future combat.”
The U.S. Army Minnesota National Guard were engaged with civil unrest operations at ground zero and were packed and ready to come to the NTC, according to Col. Michael Simmering, Commander of Operations Group. However, the 1/34 ABCT had to unload some of their equipment to support civil unrest operations, only then to reload again and deploy to the National Training Center.
“What these guys went through, how they fought to get here, I’ve never seen anyone fight so hard just to get to this point,” said Simmering “These guys are looking at a future real-world mission and they’re taking this seriously and that’s what we want everyone to do.”
During the height of the civil unrest, the 1/34th ABCT MN ARNG provided security for the police department, fire department and the citizens of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, said Col. Timothy Kemp, Battalion Commander, 1/34th ABCT MN ARNG.
“We’re trained very well in the United States Army, to do this type of mission (at NTC) and also to support civil authorities — Its part of our training,” said Kemp “The NTC developed a training plan that allowed us to progress at our own pace and the OPFOR make it a challenge no matter how well you are doing — which only makes you better.”
The 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division consists of eight major subordinate commands. More than 5,200 Soldiers make up the brigade’s combined arms, armor, cavalry, infantry, artillery, engineer and brigade support battalions, constituting more than half of the Minnesota Army National Guard’s total force structure.
Readiness training began once the 1/34 ABCT arrived at NTC, with COVID mitigations protocols continuing during reception, staging, onward movement, and integration (RSOI). Additionally, the installation provided manned access control points and restricted the rotational training unit (RTU) to the training area in order to create safety zones for the Fort Irwin community as well as the 1/34 ABCT.
“There was no impact to training (From COVID-19), none of the battalions were effected to the point where we couldn’t continue,” said Lesperance.
In August, the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division from Fort Carson will undergo their hardest day in training here at the NTC so they are better prepared to face any threat during future deployments.
“Our objective is to create a crucible event, so this event today is worse than any event they will encounter in the real world,” said Lesperance.