Rifle Focus provides tough training for Fort Bliss infantry
By DAVID BURGE | El Paso Times, Texas (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 1, 2016
FORT BLISS (Tribune News Service) — The rat-tat-tat of a machine gun pierced the serene Chihuahuan desert landscape in the vast Fort Bliss training area.
An explosion from a Bangalore torpedo – a long plastic tube filled with explosives – provided an exclamation point.
Soon, the desert was alive with soldiers from 2nd Platoon, Cobra Company, 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment. These soldiers did a live-fire scenario that culminated nearly two weeks of training out in the field during an exercise known as Rifle Focus.
“This is as real world as we can get out here,” said 1st Lt. Sebastien De Groof, a Scottsdale, Ariz., native who serves as an assistant operations officer with 3-41 Infantry.
About 450 soldiers from 3-41 Infantry took part in Rifle Focus in July.
The exercise prepared soldiers at the platoon level and is part of the Rifle Battalion’s gated training strategy as it prepares to go to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., with the rest of 1st Brigade in late October and into November for a month-long training rotation.
Platoons in 3-41 Infantry rotated through three scenarios in what are called situational training exercises or STX. They did a movement to contact, a deliberate attack on an urban village and an air assault raid into an urban village.
Platoons also did a live-fire exercise where they had to bring together different weapons -- machine guns, their Stryker armor vehicles, Bangalore torpedoes and Claymore mines, to name a few. They brought all their capabilities together to take out three enemy machine gun nests that were surrounded by concertina wire and then set up a hasty defense to rebuff an enemy counter-attack.
Each platoon did the live fire one time during the day and once at night.
Soldiers from 3-41 Infantry were joined by elements from sister unit, the 16th Engineer Battalion, and got air support from the Combat Aviation Brigade.
“Our soldiers are learning a great deal as we are out here at this training event,” said Lt. Col. Keith Kramer, commander of the 3-41 Infantry.
“We are getting better every day,” said Kramer, from Saline, Mich. “It’s hot but we are fighting through tough conditions and getting better every single day, so we are ready to go to NTC or if the nation calls, deploy in our defense.”
The Rifle Battalion went to NTC in June 2015 and to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., in January of this year along with rest of 1st Brigade.
In April, the battalion started its latest training cycle in preparation for its return to Fort Irwin. The battalion's soldiers started with individual training during Expert Infantryman Badge testing and they have progressed through training at the team, squad and now platoon levels.
Later this summer, its companies will participate in the Ready Focus exercise which is put on by the brigade, and then the battalion and brigade will participate in Iron Focus which is run by the 1st Armored Division.
It adds up to a classic gated training strategy to get ready for the ultimate training test at NTC.
All levels of the battalion, except for its Mobile Gun System Platoon, participated in the recent Rifle Focus exercise.
“There is a lot of work that needs to be done before going to NTC,” Kramer said. “In an Army unit, you have so much turnover in leadership and soldiers, we focus on the fundamentals all the time.”
Second Lt. Andrew Fletcher is the platoon leader for 2nd Platoon, Cobra Company. The Burke, Va., native said the Rifle Focus exercise provided invaluable experience for his platoon.
“We are putting all our pieces of our platoon together and learning how to fight them all at once,” Fletcher said.
Sgt. 1st Class Tomas Ratuszny is the platoon sergeant for 2nd Platoon. He also said the exercise provided great experience, especially for “new soldiers who have never done this before.”
“It’s good for them,” said Ratuszny, who is from Linden, N.J. “It helps them get used to the heat. That’s a big one.”
Spc. Troy Smith, of Melbourne, Fla., is a gunner with 2nd Platoon.
Participating in an exercise like this, especially the live-fire portion, builds confidence, trust and teamwork, Smith said.
“You have to rely on your teammate, your team, your squad and platoon, regardless of whether it is a live fire or not,” Smith said. “You have got to be able to trust that person next to you to do their job, just like you are going to do yours for them.”
First Lt. Zach Trevathan is the platoon leader for Recon Platoon with Headquarters and Headquarters Company. Trevathan’s soldiers were used to gather intelligence during the exercise. During the live-fire portion, they practiced a movement that is called breaking contact.
While out on patrol, the scouts were discovered by the enemy and had to engage in a brief fight, Trevathan said.
Trevathan’s scouts practiced returning fire on the enemy and then moving away in a controlled fashion, usually under the cover of a smoke grenade.
“It works in reverse of what everyone else is doing out here,” said Trevathan, from Santa Fe, N.M.
Capt. Ben Riley, operations officer for 3-41 Infantry, said that participating in a live-fire exercise is crucial in the training and development of a unit.
“There is nothing we can do as an Army that is better than doing a live fire,” the Chicago native said.
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