116th IBCT completes mission rehearsal exercise ahead of Kosovo deployment

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo — After nearly a year of training, Soldiers from the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 29th Infantry Division, Virginia and Kentucky National Guard are now ready to support NATO’s mission in Kosovo after their final training event at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany.

The nearly 20-day mission exercise at the JMRC, which concluded February 23, was the culmination of training aimed at improving readiness and preparing the brigade to join the multinational effort to provide a safe environment and freedom of movement for all people create Kosovo.

“The training is designed to help you see yourself, so you’re always trying to take advantage of opportunities to make minor corrections or improvements to get better every day,” said Col. Christopher J. Samulski, commander of the 116.IBCT. “We had people from all over the country, from New York to Washington State to California, and[JMRC]gave us the opportunity to work on problems as a team.”

During its time with JMRC, the 116th IBCT built on the skills and knowledge gained over the course of the unit’s 15-day annual training earlier this year and a 30-day validation exercise at Camp McGregor Operational Readiness Training Complex in New Mexico shortly before were arriving in Germany.

Now that their time in Germany is up, the 116th IBCT Headquarters, designated Task Force Saint Lo, will assume command and control of the Kosovo Force’s Regional Command East, which is a full component of the NATO and NATO contribution Partner States represents support for broader international efforts to build peace and stability in the region.

Samulski, who is also assuming command as RC-East’s new commander, said the ability to communicate with its multinational elements is key to allowing Brigade Headquarters to command and control the more than 10 partner nations currently serving in RC-East serve.

“For many of us, this is the first time we’ve served on a NATO mission,” Samulski said. “Part of what we had to do (at JMRC) was learn how to work with our NATO partners. JMRC has given us the opportunity to work with our multinational partners, (something) you can’t replicate in the US.”

During their time with JMRC, Soldiers from Task Force Saint Lo were trained along with subordinate and partner units in a variety of assignments and duties. Their training focused on situations they will routinely encounter, such as interacting with the people of Kosovo and patrolling alongside Kosovo security organizations to be prepared for worst-case scenarios, such as preparing for medical emergencies and responding to civil unrest, duties vastly different from standard infantry duties.

“The first thing I started explaining (to our Soldiers) was that we need to change the lexicon (how we train),” said Command Sgt. Maj. Will Long, senior enlisted leader of the 1st Battalion Kentucky National Guard, 149th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT, 29th Inf. Dept. “The serving (security forces) are not our opposition. With them we conduct patrols; they are a credible force.”

As part of RC-East’s Kinetic Battalion, the 1-149 Inf. The role of Bn. is to support local and international organizations such as the Kosovo Police and the European Union Rule of Law Mission should the security situation in Kosovo deteriorate. Long explained that it is imperative for his soldiers to maintain and improve their infantry skills as they may still be called upon to respond at any moment.

“We’re still preparing for that,” Long said. “We do a lot (leader development) to make sure they remember infantry tactics and don’t lose touch with them. We will continue to do a lot of things while we (in Kosovo) improve their fighting skills.”

With the exception of the medical support company and other small elements, most of the brigade is made up of part-time citizen soldiers, each of whom is putting their lives on hold to support NATO’s mission in Kosovo. However, Long says part-time service in the National Guard has not hampered their ability to perform at the same level as their active-duty counterparts.

“It can actually be harder to be a National Guard soldier because active duty soldiers have 30 days to do what you have to do in three days,” Long said. “You may not do it every day, but you are expected to know, expected to act and expected to do everything as you would if you were would be on active duty.”

Samulski said the key to success as a soldier in the National Guard is the ability to balance civilian responsibilities with military duties, something that comes with experience and dedication.

“I think the National Guard is a very interesting paradigm,” Samulski explained. “You have to be good at two things; Your (civilian) job, and you also need to know your job in the military. I think it’s even more complicated when you look at family dynamics and what you leave behind.”

“It’s something that when you’ve been on the watch for a long time, you realize you’re juggling.” He added. “Once they start the first deployment, I think it gets easier.”

For Samulski, his goal is to ensure that the soldiers of the 116th IBCT leave Kosovo with better professionals and better soldiers.

“My goal is really to train officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers,” Samulski explained. “When you look at a National Guard soldier and how much they do in a year compared to what they’re going to do that year, I think this is a wonderful opportunity to learn your craft, to become a better professional and (knowledge) back with you to teach to your colleagues in the States.”

Overall, according to Long, the training at JMRC has done an exceptional job of preparing the soldiers for what they will experience at the beginning of their deployment in Kosovo.

“I was very happy to see that everyone was motivated and everyone was after her,” Long said. “They’ve been working pretty hard and it shows a lot of promise for what we’re going to achieve over the next eight to nine months.”

Date of recording: 01/03/2022
Release Date: 03/03/2022 02:22
Story ID: 415664
Web Views: 3
Download: 0