By Staff Sgt. Veronica A. Fraga
One of the ways First Brigade’s 1st Battalion stands out among other battalions in the Regional Support Command – South (RSC-S) of the California State Military Reserve is by choosing to participate in Annual Trainings (AT) as one of the ways it supports the California National Guard. The battalion’s Alpha Company takes that concept one step further, through a unique, high-tempo emphasis on field readiness.
Alpha Company’s motto is “Team Viper!” — often followed by: “We go with the Guard!” A key part of Alpha Company’s mission is to provide combat field support for 1st Battalion, 185th Armor, California National Guard, during summer annual training and throughout the year. The 185th Armor conducts its annual training over a 10-21 day period in the summer at Ft. Irwin, Calif.
As this year’s AT approaches in early July, Alpha Company’s active members all have completed range certification, qualifying them to run range operations for both the track and the sniper ranges at Ft. Irwin. The team’s senior NCOs are also qualified to serve as range OICs.
During last year’s AT, CSMR Spc. Kenneth E. Nakanishi worked the ammunitions supply point for track gunnery qualifications, alongside an NCO and a private from the 185th. “We had seven Bradleys come through,” he explained. “We did PCMS [preventive maintenance checks and services] on the guns, and issued the ammo.”
Positioning CSMR Soldiers behind the lines in these operational roles enables their Cal Guard counterparts to maintain focus on the targets, maximizing their training time. Spc. Brandon Scott, a scout sniper with the 185th, called the CSMR “a big asset” for the Guard. “Without them running the ranges, we’d be out of luck,” he said.
Scout Sniper Pfc. Justin Courtney grinned broadly, adding, “And they always make sure we have food.” That’s because these CSMR soldiers often take on the responsibility of ensuring that the 185th’s mobile tent systems for food service and “water buffalo” mobile hydration tanks are in place and operational.
In addition to range certification, Alpha Company members have also obtained military licenses to operate a range of utility vehicles, from Humvee personnel carriers to “deuce-and-a-half” light-medium tactical vehicles (LMTV). This qualification enables them to provide transportation support for convoy movements, a time-consuming task that can pull 185th soldiers out of more mission-essential training activities for hours at a time.
Alpha Company’s training objective is simple: Do whatever it takes to blend in with the Guard, in order to provide seamless, ongoing training support. With only about a dozen active members at any given time, the company logs more CSMR service and training hours than units many times its size — an average of 100-200 hours per month, per Soldier, according to Sgt. 1st Class Scott Barrier, Alpha Company’s first sergeant.
“We work longer, harder and under harsher conditions all year long, to ensure the unit can successfully blend in and adapt when called on to perform,” Barrier said.
Typical Alpha Company UTAs span two to four days and feature fitness- and skills-development activities, such as standard Army PT and road marches in tactical gear, and practical training in combat support skills such as weapons, radio communications, and Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain (MOUT). This emphasis on real-world training paid off during last year’s AT, when the team was called on to serve as opposing forces for an Iraqi village MOUT simulation.
The company often holds its drills in conjunction with those of the 185th, to simultaneously provide training and armory support to the Cal Guard at its Colton, San Bernardino or Azusa facilities. Team members with expertise in mission-critical military or civilian specialties lead classes for the Guard on relevant topics, such as Staff Sgt. Daniel F. Saam’s LMTV driver training and Sgt. Dennis T. Barker’s class on improvised explosive device (IED) detection.
Capt. William Schuchman and Capt. Mark Nelson, RSC-S Judge Advocate General (JAG) officers, accompany the 1st Battalion to ATs, delivering mandatory annual legal briefings and providing Guard members with legal services. However, like Alpha Company’s enlisted members, Schuchman and Nelson have become familiar faces around the 185th’s armories. According to Barrier, these staff officers regularly drill alongside the team, developing their leadership skills and earning the respect of both CSMR and CNG Soldiers in the process.
Alpha Company’s June UTA was a three-day event, beginning Friday evening, June 1, at the San Bernardino Armory. On Saturday, unit members assisted the Guard with AT preparations, such as load out, equipment check and S1 administrative support. The team met again Sunday morning for PT and combat-support training at Peters Canyon Regional Park in Tustin.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Richard Bergquist