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Fort Bliss brigade getting ready for rotation at National Training Center

By David Burge | El Paso Times, Texas (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 11, 2016

FORT BLISS (Tribune News Service) — The always busy 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team isn’t wasting any time this new year and is getting right after its latest mission.

The Bulldog Brigade, as it is nicknamed, went out in the field on Saturday and will stay out in the vast Fort Bliss training area until the Super Bowl in early February. The Bulldogs are getting ready to send 3,200 soldiers to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., in late March and into April for a month-long rotation.

“We are focusing on ensuring our soldiers are prepared to deploy globally, anytime and anywhere,” said Maj. Rich Groen, a native of Somers Point, N.J. who is the brigade’s operations officer. “We have to ensure that individual soldiers and collectively, the unit is ready to fulfill that mission.”

The brigade did a rotation at NTC in September 2014, when it was still 4th Brigade. It reflagged to 3rd Brigade in spring 2015 as part of an Army-wide restructuring.

The Bulldogs also recently finished up a 9-month-long mission in which they were regionally aligned with Africa. They took part in several large-scale exercises in Africa and did numerous training missions with African partner nations. The brigade also sent its 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment to Djibouti in the Horn of Africa for a nine-month deployment that ended in September.

Now, it’s on to NTC again.

“We just came back from Christmas block leave and bam, we’re right back out in the field,” Groen said. “Our soldiers and families are sacrificing quite a bit to ensure our nation’s military is prepared for any type of conflict that could happen and ensure their readiness. It’s amazing to see their resiliency.”

For the next three weeks, about 4,000 soldiers from the brigade will conduct platoon- and company-level exercises known as Bulldog Focus. These will culminate with some live-fire training.

Then, during Iron Focus in the first week of February, about 3,200 soldiers from the brigade and all its battalions, except for 1-77 Armor, will do their final tune-up before going to NTC. Soldiers from 1-77 Armor will not be going to NTC because they just returned from a deployment to Africa.

Iron Focus will also culminate with some live-fire training, Groen added.

The National Training Center at Fort Irwin is one of three combat training centers that the Army has. It is designed to provide the most realistic training possible while testing and stressing individual soldiers and their units.

NTC gives soldiers training in traditional army-on-army combat while also helping them stay sharp with their counter-insurgency skills that have been crucial in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001.

“NTC will stress our soldiers and our organizations to the point where they will see what needs to be improved in their organization,” Groen said. “They will learn a tremendous bit about what they need to improve as well as what they are good at.”

While going to a place like NTC can be stressful, it also provides some incredible opportunities, Groen said.

Virtually the entire brigade will get to take part in a live-fire exercise there. At Fort Bliss, the live fire during Iron Focus will be leader-focused and will involve about 15 percent of the brigade, Groen said.

“So this is something that a lot of soldiers will not experience that often,” he said.

The brigade’s new senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Williamson, took over in his new job on Dec. 18. Most recently, he was the senior enlisted leader for Task Force 4 for Operations Group at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.

Williamson said that is valuable experience because he has seen what other units have done well and what they have done poorly during a training rotation at a combat training center.

“You have seen the end result of other people’s training paths and the things they have done well or failed to do,” Williamson said.

Going to NTC will serve as a "capstone" training event and "will signify that the brigade is ready if and when the nation were to ask us to do anything,” Williamson said.

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©2016 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)

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