Soldiers from the six battalions and headquarters company of the California National Guard's 79th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) coalesced June 15-30 for two weeks of Army National Guard Annual Training (AT) at Camp Roberts on California's Central Coast. It was the first time in more than three years that the 79th as a whole was in the field training together.
At more than 3,700 soldiers, the 79th IBCT is the California National Guard's largest, and most lethal, combat brigade. The Brigade consists of 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment; 1st Battalion, 160th Infantry Regiment; 1st Squadron, 18th Cavalry Regiment; 1st Battalion, 143rd Field Artillery Regiment; the 578th Brigade Engineer Battalion; the 40th Brigade Support Battalion; and Headquarters and Headquarters Company. Many of the Brigade's units have deployed overseas over the past three years. This AT period allowed them to come back together as a Brigade and train as one again.
"For Annual Training 2019, my intent was the reintegration and synchronization of the Brigade and all six of our battalions," 79th IBCT Commander Col. Richard Mifsud said. "I knew the battalions and the Brigade headquarters were going to be rusty in working with each other. AT allowed us to work the bugs out, reestablish a field Tactical Operations Center (TOC), and conduct lanes training down to the squad level."
Mifsud explained that the 79th is in Year 1 of the Army's five-year Sustainable Readiness Model (SRM) cycle in which units reset after deployments. The Brigade's units have recently returned from overlapping deployments to Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and Kosovo, as well as a training exercise in Hawaii.
Mifsud served as the Brigade's deputy commander in Kosovo where the brigade headquarters was deployed in 2018. He took command of the 79th in January 2019 shortly after returning home. He has spent most of his career in the Brigade, having served as the S3 Operations Officer for the 1-184th Infantry Battalion, and commander of the 1-160th Infantry Battalion, among several other positions.
79th IBCT S3 Operations Officer Maj. Edwin Rodriguez said the training accomplished over AT 2019 included the 1-160th and 1-184th Infantry Battalions conducting AT4 and mortar live fires, and squad-level Situational Training Exercise (STX) lanes at Camp Roberts. The 1-184th ran the ranges for Individual Weapons Qualification (IWQ) for the Brigade on the M4 rifle, M9 pistol and crew-served weapons. In addition, soldiers from the 1-160th and 1-184th conducted sniper training and .50 caliber machine gun mounted live-fire crew validation at the Fort Irwin National Training Center.
The 1-143rd Field Artillery Battalion trained on its M119A3 and M777A2 howitzers, finishing out the AT with an "Artillery Rodeo" in which its batteries competed on their speed and accuracy in emplacing the howitzers.
The 579th Brigade Engineer Battalion set up concertina wire and pickets for perimeter defense around the Brigade and Division command posts, and conducted training with its heavy equipment at the Camp Roberts Engineer Training Site, moving dirt and digging fighting positions. The Engineer Battalion also paved roads and graded parts of the cantonment area on Camp Roberts.
The 40th Brigade Support Battalion provided medical care, conducted driver's training, maintained and repaired vehicles, and cooked for the Brigade.
The 1-18th Cavalry Regiment, having only recently returned from a deployment to Jordan, provided soldiers to supplement its sister battalions.
For Lt. Col. Fritz Roggow, AT 2019 had special significance. During the AT, he took command of the 1-184th Infantry Battalion from Lt. Col. Joel Armstrong at a Change of Command Ceremony at the historic Camp Roberts Soldier Bowl.
"This was a great time to take command," Roggow said. "A lot of our training was consolidated with our sister battalion, the 1-160. This AT really forced us to coordinate with our sister battalions, as well as steal best practices from each other. It was a great opportunity for the organization to improve as a whole."
Roggow said the biggest challenge for his soldiers during AT was the heat. Some days the temperature climbed above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. "It was hot," he said. "But once we acclimated to the weather it was great to see the Soldiers out there executing the mission, staying focused. Once the heat subsided a little bit, or at least we kind of acclimated to it, everybody did a great job."
"Annual Training 2019 went extremely well," Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew McKindley said. "It was good to knock off the rust, get all of our systems out and test them to make sure we could all talk to each other. The troops did an outstanding job. Col. Misfud's intent was to integrate the battalions. What that means is we're not single entities out on an island by ourselves. We're working together. We accomplished this and showed our interoperability and fulfilled the commander's initiative of integration."
This was McKindley's last AT with the 79th after 19 years with the Brigade. He'll be moving on to a position with the Cal Guard's 224th Sustainment Brigade.
"This AT was reinvigorating," McKindley said. "You're able to see all the hard work the soldiers were doing, how they were giving 110 percent in the heat, performing like soldiers, doing their actual jobs, their combat jobs.”
McKindley pointed to his Thunderbolt patch. "What I want everyone to remember is that we're the Thunderbolt Brigade. A thunderbolt is a real thing that happens when lightning and thunder occur at the exact same time and space. A thunderbolt produces a devastating effect, and that's what we do on the battlefield as the Thunderbolt Brigade."
Having completed this year's Annual Training for its federal mission, the Brigade is gearing up for its state mission. Soldiers from the 79th will be the Cal Guard's main effort in manning hand crews to support CAL FIRE in protecting the residents of California during the 2019 wildfire season.
Source: US Army