Story by SSG Rory Featherston on 09/11/2018SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii Soldiers with the Washington Army National Guard had the opportunity in July to train in a real-world scenario using all of their equipment to respond to realistic situations that they would likely see in a war zone like the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, or domestic situation like the Oso, WA mudslide in 2014.
"I believe in an aggressive training philosophy, very tough and very realistic," said Lt. Col. Jonathan Steinbach, commander of the 741st. "Aggressive training is how Army units develop the resiliency they need to do their wartime mission and their peace time domestic response."
Members with the 741st Ordnance Battalion and 319th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company from Camp Murray, Washington conducted operations and provided support for the 25th Infantry Division during training exercise Lightning Forge 2018 on the Island of Oahu. They were supplemented with soldiers from the Alabama and California National Guard.
Lightning Forge is an annual training event held in Hawaii run by the 25th Infantry Division and is used to maintain operational readiness of the U.S. Army Pacific Command (USRPAC).
The 319th began their training with the team leader training course, which consisted of five practice lanes. The lanes were made up of an improvised explosive device detection lane, unexploded ordnance recovery lane, a chemical decontamination lane, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear recovery and containment lane and a M198 Howitzer round extraction lane.
"We effectively deployed and redeployed an EOD battalion and company supplemented by Alabama and California National Guard elements overseas and supported and active duty elements is a brigade-level exercise and achieved objective T ratings," said Capt. Kimberly R. McCarty, commander of the 319th.
Along with the team leader training, the 319th also participated in the field exercise providing EOD support for the forward units. This support allowed EOD the opportunity to get simulated war time training in responding to improvised explosive devices in the battlefield as well as dealing with unexploded ordnance and possible chemical and biological attacks that may be injected into the exercise.
"During this exercise, one of the greatest challenges that the 319th faced was switching our mindset and operational planning from counterinsurgency operations to decisive action," McCarty said. "We must not lose our proficiency in IED defeat but the focus is shifting to conventional warfare with any near-pear adversary. Bomb technicians have to practice supporting this changing fight as well and Lightning Forge was a fantastic opportunity to put our training to the test."
While the 319th conducted their team leader training and field exercises, the 741st set up and maintained a tactical operations center. The TOC is designed as a way for the command element of a unit or higher to keep up to date on forward elements and also communicate with those elements on the newest tactical and technical information to allow those elements to succeed in their mission. Officers and soldiers in the TOC are responsible for tracking mission personnel, intelligence, communications and IT support and supply.
Steinbach took the training and insights learned from last year's Lightning Forge exercise and worked closely with the 303rd Ordnance Battalion to make this year's training more dynamic and follow more of the mission essential tasks, or METs, for the EOD.
"Every drill weekend, we acquired equipment, trained on the equipment, went through the mission essential tasks and developed battle drills and practiced those battle drills to make sure we were able to do our job," Steinbach said.
Practicing on all possible tasks allowed the 319th and 741st to pass all of their training certifying that they would be able to perform all tasks to the standard if needed for any federal or state mission that may arise.
"Very often it seems like we as a command are biting off more than we can chew but I think that Lightning Forge proves that we can chew more than we ever thought we could," Steinbach said.