FORT IRWIN, Calif. – U.S. Army Soldiers from 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (Blackhorse) conducted a fierce counterattack against the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania National Guard, during a large-scale combat operations training event July 3, 2022, at the National Training Center (NTC), Fort Irwin, California.
Blackhorse Troopers tested the Rotational Training Unit’s (RTU) defensive ability by forcing them to fight to hold key terrain against a barrage of challenges from a near-peer opponent including indirect fire, close- combat and chemical weapons attack, electronic signal jamming and hidden enemy forces.
Earlier in the week, elements of 11th ACR, acting as both the fictional Donovian 803rd Brigade Tactical Group and Bilasuvar Freedom Brigade (BFB) “guerrilla” fighters, defended the city of Razish, NTC, from the RTU in a grueling all-day battle. Razish, the largest simulated urban settlement in the training area, presents visiting brigades with ample opportunity to test their skills and adapt against a wide range of weaponry and attacks from a uniformed army as well irregular forces as they fight to seize dense, urban terrain.
“You really have to put your thinking cap on out here,” said Staff Sgt. Darren Lawson, 2nd Squadron, 11th ACR, acting platoon sergeant, who led the irregular forces in the simulated field. ”You should be able to see the fight from both sides, whether BFB or RTU– especially during the planning phase. Whether it is hiking up these mountains, traveling in a convoy of 20-plus vehicles in your platoon, or fighting in a company size element, you need to be able to think ahead and know what each force is doing.”
The 11th ACR Soldiers regularly put the RTU through the strenuous training at NTC, where summer temperatures near triple-digits and difficult-to maneuver desert terrain can be nearly as dangerous as the enemy. Despite the elements, Lawson says Blackhorse Troopers fight relentlessly, forging resilience in their ranks as well as that of training opponents as they provide the ready counterforce for a constant influx of rotational units.
“During the day it’s really tough out here, wearing full kit, throwing that ammo across your back, carrying your buddy out of the fight,” said Lawson, who stressed that the esprit de corps among troopers, especially during a mission, is high. “But, it’s a huge morale booster being able to get out here with your dudes, right? With your soldiers that you have been able to train up and preparing them for whatever may come — it’s really important.”
Despite the frequent rotations, blistering heat, unforgiving terrain, and a constant influx of rotational units, the regimental motto boasts of an incorruptible spirit among 11th ACR ranks, “We are fast, lethal and unbreakable.”
Lawson said he takes pride in their reputation and in challenging his own soldiers — as well as the RTU.
“You get to think like the enemy and force your brothers and sisters on the other side to push through and overcome,” he said. ”We are bringing real life aspects for RTU so they can experience here what they might see when they go overseas.”
According to Lawson, every rotation 11th ACR learns, gains proficiency, becomes faster and tougher — and is able to implement new challenges for the RTU, and First Lt. Dylan Cole, Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th ACR officer-in-charge, who served as Battle Captain for Opposing Forces agrees with him.
“Practice makes perfect,” Cole said. “You train how you fight and out here we get the opportunity to do just that — we get tested constantly.”
Cole said troops had a great opportunity to learn at NTC and to expand their understanding of what they can accomplish despite any hardship.
“Nothing is technically impossible,” Cole said. “You need to always find a way to win. I have always been told that throughout my military career — no matter what is thrown at you, find a way to win… because that’s what America expects from us. We have to win.”