In response to the My Turn by Kevin C. Nye's My Turn of Aug. 14, "Let no soldier cry from the battlefield that he was not properly trained."
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I recently read with interest Kevin C. Nye's My Turn of Aug. 14, concerning theater immersion training and the resources and preparation of our Alaska National Guard soldiers that are deploying to Iraq. As the commander of this unit, I would like to report what really is going on.
The Army requires that I personally evaluate our daily training schedules and risk assessments to ensure that our Alaska soldiers conduct rigorous, uncomfortable, realistic, but safe training that will prepare them for the rigors of this particular war. We have conducted several live-fire exercises and will conduct many more. Live and realistic training is the only way to persevere against a tenacious and determined foe. We wear our Interceptor Body Armor in all of our training. This adds 35 pounds in heat that daily goes over 95 degrees.
The 3rd Battalion has and continues to internalize the quote, "Let no soldier cry from the battlefield that he was not properly trained." We continuously push for an ever higher level of combat readiness.
Our Alaska soldiers are the toughest, most feared, most prepared warriors that our state and nation can generate, so we can professionally perform our mission and come home safely. The physical and mental requirements placed on an individual preparing to serve his or her country during this or any war is demanding.
Nevertheless, let me enlighten everyone. Our battalion motto is "Setting the Standard" and our battalion training focus comes from Gen. Patton, whom we paraphrase, "It is better to sweat (in training) than it is to bleed (on the battlefield)."
First Army and Camp Shelby provides us with well-run ranges, resources, vehicles, training areas equipped with Arab-speaking role players, mosques and villages to replicate Iraq and all the ammunition we need. Their support has been good to excellent. The attitude of their leadership in supporting us has been stellar. They have given us everything we have asked for to train our soldiers.
There are individual and collective training certifications that each soldier must pass at 100 percent. Those requirements include 40 separate theater immersion tasks that include an array of specific "shoot, move and communicate" fighting skills designed to properly train soldiers on skills needed for combat. The goal is to obtain an individual intuitive response that is audaciously executed with a warrior spirit.
Also, we participate in collective training where squad leaders conduct maneuvers and live-fire exercises. Leaders command their squads and men in a unity of effort to move and defeat improvised explosive devices, insurgent ambushes, guard entry points clearing vehicles and personnel, and protecting U.S. personnel and assets. The Alaska Army National Guard's non-commissioned officers ensure that their subordinates master all of their individual tasks. During free time our NCOs continue to train lower ranking soldiers on theater immersion tasks to ensure standards are met.
The training is demanding. We have all lost weight, gone without sleep, sweated in inhospitable conditions and trained with audacity like our lives depend on it. Our training day begins as early as 4:30 a.m. and ends in the late evening. We give each soldier as much sleep as regulation allows depending on the mission.
Recently, we suffered a tragic training loss of two soldiers. This case is still under investigation. We train right because all of those soldiers in that vehicle met safety precaution standards that result in fewer lives lost. My heart-felt prayers go to the families of our deceased soldiers. We remembered them by sewing their names on our flag that flies over our headquarters.
We are the largest deployment of Alaska guardsman since World War II and boast one of the largest percentages of Native Americans serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Our unit crest is distinctive in that it is the only Native American crest in the Army today.
Finally, I personally invite the Juneau Empire or anyone to visit with the 3rd Battalion Alaska soldiers to verify firsthand the audacious training we are doing. On behalf of my NCOs, rest assured that no Alaska soldier will "Cry from the battlefield that he was not properly trained."
Duff W. Mitchell is commander of the 3rd Battalion, 297th Infantry, Alaska Army National Guard.