July 20, 1998

29th Infantry Division Tests Combat Skills in
Maneuver Training Exercise

by Staff Sgt. Jo A. Hoots and Sgt. Dee Ortiz
Virginia Army National Guard Public Affairs

FORT PICKETT -- The largest National Guard training exercise ever held in Virginia took place here in July, bringing together units from the 29th Infantry Division in a top-to-bottom test of infantry operations. The Division Maneuver Exercise, dubbed Operation Chindit, brought together units from Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, testing their skills from the staff level down to individual soldier combat tactics. The magnitude of this operation tested the training and mettle of 29th soldiers.

"We strove to achieve multi-echelon training that involved every soldier," said Maj. Gen. Carroll D. Childers, 29th Infantry Division commander. "The exercise challenged them to re-address their skills, caused them to be imaginative and innovative, encouraged them to take prudent risks in being innovative and gave them an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and teamwork at an unprecedented level."

29th Infantry Division Public Affairs Officer Maj. Carl N. Grant III said, "Chindit was significant for our soldiers because it allowed them to experience where they fit in a Corps-level operation."

In the Chindit scenario, the 29th Infantry Division is deployed to the island of Marcala to assist the fictitious 80th Airborne Division. Tasked with defending the local U.S. military installation against takeover by the Marcalan military, units from the 29th were able to plan and train in a continuum that flowed from a single operations order.

The exercise began with the insertion of troops from the 29th Infantry Division’s 1st and 3rd Brigades by Blackhawk helicopters into strategic landing zones on the island.

For the insertion of 3rd Battalion units, the 229th Chemical Company, from Roanoke, was tasked with the mission of laying down smoke to screen platoon movement into the woodlines. "We had to compromise our usual procedures," said Capt. Gray Kendall, company commander. "Usually we’d be a click away from the site and we’d start earlier to let smoke drift into the area."

"I felt more than prepared to do this mission," said 1st Lt. John Lewis, 229th Chemical. "From a training standpoint, it’s very important that we have this opportunity to coordinate with a lot of units, whether we do a smoke mission or a recon. And that (coordination) is, in itself, half the battle."

As the scenario unfolded over the next several days, Company C, 1/116th Infantry got an intelligence report that the "enemy" was holding a main road intersection in their area.

The soldiers quickly prepared an attack on "Objective Coolidge," as division and brigade dubbed the opposing force’s position. Objective Coolidge consisted of an M-113 armored personnel carrier and a squad of soldiers belonging to the 1st of the 41st Marcalan Infantry.

"This is an enemy security outpost," said Capt. John Epperly, commander, Company C. "We want to take it out and take control of this major intersection." The intersection was a main artery in the scenario and controlling it would ensure the flow of personnel and re-supply to the units in the field.

Epperly explained that this was the unit’s first objective after coming into country. When the soldiers were unloaded at the air field, they immediately had to start movement to the objective.

Usually the soldiers have some down time to prepare for the move, according to the commander. But in this situation they had to "hit the ground running." The soldiers moved across about two miles of rough terrain, much of which was swampland. But the soldiers performed to standard, quickly moving their squads to overtake the objective and secure the roadway against further enemy occupation.

Providing essential air support to the 116th Infantry in this scenario were soldiers from 3/111th Air Defense Artillery in Portsmouth, Va.

"We have people all over the countryside (Fort Pickett) on different missions," said Maj. Douglas Gagnon, battalion executive officer. "They are supporting the maneuver elements and the task force, and are providing air defense coverage to the airfield, fuel depots, supply depots and any other resources critical to our efforts. We are the ADA ‘umbrella of protection’ for these units."

The Stinger weapons are equipped with electronic devices that permit crews to identify aircraft. Capt. Alex Bengtson, Battery C commander, explained both military and civilian aircraft carry boxes that contain encrypted information which is decoded by the Stinger weapons. From this information, crews can identify the aircraft as known or unknown, depending on whether or not information is received. With unknowns, the teams use standard operating procedures to identify the craft by sight and make the determination to fire.

"The weapon contains an infrared, heat-seeking missile, so it’s going to go right to the engine or exhaust system and cripple the aircraft," said Bengtson.

NATO-member forces trained with the 29th Infantry Division throughout the exercise. Sgt. Beverly Shrimpling, from the United Kingdom’s Territorial Army (TA), joined members from Maryland’s 129th Signal Battalion which provided communications support from the Division’s Tactical Operations Center during the exercise.

Shrimpling, who comes from the town of Middlesbrough in the northeast region of the island nation, is a member of the TA’s 34th North Signal Regiment, a unit with approximately 130 soldiers. Her 10-year career includes full-time service in the Regiment’s training center.

The TA is the British reservist equivalent of this country’s National Guard but, as Shrimpling explained, attendance at the weekly drills is voluntary. "It falls to the leadership to motivate the soldiers to attend, but they (the soldiers) haven’t been told they have to do it."

Shrimpling noted an important aspect of American military training she plans to take with her to Great Britain. "The way that you look after the soldiers in hygiene, safety, shiftwork -- the emphasis is on taking care of the soldier," she said.

For Shrimpling, the exercise has given her a big-picture view of the way in which units like hers would fit into large-scale operations. "We’ve got staff and we’ve got communications and we have staff to get the communications to," she said. "This helps you see the whole point of being here in the first place."

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