This week, 600 soldiers with the New Hampshire National Guard's 197th Field Artillery Brigade out of Manchester are at Michigan's Camp Grayling taking part in live-fire exercises with more than 3,000 troops from five states.
"This is one of the biggest logistics exercises I've ever seen or been a part of, and that includes deployments," said Col. Thomas Spencer, commander of the brigade, during a phone interview Thursday from Michigan. "I've got to think this is one of the largest equipment moves in New Hampshire history."
Preparations began two weeks ago with a major rail transport operation in Canterbury, according to Spencer. Units within the brigade combined to prep hundreds of pieces of equipment - including cargo trucks, Humvees and weapons platforms - to travel more than 1,000 miles to Camp Grayling for use by soldiers from New Hampshire, Michigan, West Virginia and Rhode Island, along with an active duty unit from Fort Drum in New York, during training exercises.
The drills and maneuvers, scheduled to begin today and continue daily over the next three weeks, are known collectively as eXportable Combat Training Capability (XCTC), Spencer said.
Developed in 2005, XCTC is designed to train National Guard units on combat proficiency using realistic battlefield simulations, including detecting and encountering Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
"We look forward to this unique training opportunity as a way to bring our units together and focus on our combat capabilities," said Col. Spencer who, along with Command Sgt. Maj. Victor May of Pittsfield, will oversee all 3,000 troops during their stay at Camp Grayling.
"Our soldiers will get the experience of performing their jobs in a field environment and be better prepared to answer the call when their communities need them. I expect to have thousands of tired soldiers on my hands by the time August arrives," Spencer said.
Variety of weapons
In addition to XCTC combat lane training, the brigade will employ their howitzers and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to fire more than 3,000 155mm rounds and nearly 200 rockets during the exercise.
Over the next 21 days, Spencer said, soldiers from multiple states will operate howitzers firing high-explosive illumination and white phosphorus smoke 155 mm rounds, while High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) launch reduced-range practice rockets. Units will also fire multiple 81mm and 120mm high-explosive and white phosphorus smoke mortar rounds. Other weapons to be fired include the M4 and M16 rifles and M249, M240B, and M2 .50 caliber machine guns.
In all, Spencer estimated 200 rockets will be fired over a four-day span, and more than 3,000 155mm rounds will be fired during the three-week exercise.
The training marks the first time active duty units will work alongside reserve units during an XCTC session.
"The 197th was selected as the first field artillery brigade to go through this training," Spencer said. "We're the first brigade to conduct this type of exercise at Camp Grayling. And, this is the first unit to incorporate an active duty portion."
Spencer said the exercises mark the first time the whole brigade has been together since their deployment to Kuwait in support of Operation New Dawn in 2010.
"We developed close relationships with these units at that time, and I know a lot of our soldiers are looking forward to renewing those friendships and working with them again," said Spencer.
Spencer said while live-fire training begins today, lessons have already been learned just from the process of planning to transport hundreds of pieces of equipment to Camp Grayling.
"Conducting extensive troop and equipment movements, coordinating the logistics required to support over 3,000 soldiers, and managing seven battalions within a large-scale operation are all applicable to our state mission of providing aid to communities in times of disaster," said Spencer.
"In the event of future responses like the one we had to Katrina in New Orleans, the lessons we've learned just getting all the pieces in place here will act like a blueprint if we're ordered to mobilize," he said.
Located in northern Michigan, Camp Grayling is the largest National Guard joint training center in the U.S., covering 147,000 acres across three counties. The site is used to train not only active and reserve components of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, but also more than 100 law enforcement agencies and units from Canada, Latvia, the United Kingdom, Hungary and Serbia.
"Camp Grayling is one of our nation's best kept secrets. We provide tough, realistic joint and combined arms training for all four seasons," said Col. Erich Randall, the garrison commander at Camp Grayling.
"Reserve and active component commanders can utilize our combined arms collective training facility, the urban assault course, and the live-fire shoot house that portray the complexity and human dimension of the modern battlefield," he said. "Camp Grayling has everything necessary to assist military leaders in developing trained, competent soldiers for full-spectrum operations."