A platoon of lieutenants and noncommissioned officers humping loaded ruck sacks through the woods might not seem realistic for most Army missions.
Platoon-level leaders of the 122nd Aviation Support Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, tackled just such a mission at Fort Bragg, June 3, to build better teams and better understand how to train and lead their troops.
Lt. Col. Gail Atkins, 122nd ASB commander led the leader’s professional development day.
“Platoons fight; platoons execute the mission. Companies, in this battalion, resource it,” Atkins said. “We’re a support battalion, that means we do what the brigade needs us to do, but it’s at the squad and platoon level where we have to be lethal. As platoon teams, you are the executioners, you are the ones that have to make it happen.”
After beginning their ruck march, the lieutenants and sergeants had to respond to a simulated chemical attack, donning their gas masks. In the thick, humid morning heat, 1st Lt. Ken Hettler and Staff Sgt. Nicholas Bratton, who work together in Company B’s shop platoon, worked together to help each other.
“I was getting kind of thirsty and I had the drinking tube inside the mask in my mouth, but I needed help getting it connected to the opening in my canteen,” Hettler said.
Bratton walked over to help his platoon leader become more familiar with the canteen, which many of the newer Soldiers are not as familiar with due to the more widespread use of hydration packs in recent years.
“We’re a team,” Bratton said. “I’d help him; he’d help me.”
That sort of teamwork and knowledge sharing continued throughout the day.
“This is all about engagement — cross-training each other; learning about those strengths and weaknesses,” Atkins said.
By lunch time, the group had learned a lot more about each other, having responded to a simulated mass casualty and attempted six obstacles at a leader’s reaction course.
The 122nd ASB commander used the lunch break as an opportunity to discuss the day’s focus with her junior leaders before heading out on their next mission — to call in and set up a landing zone for a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
“Part of today is that you guys understand, across the board, what we have and what we can accomplish,” Atkins said. “But, our sergeants at the lowest level, our squad leaders and our team leaders, have to understand where they fit into this picture, and the picture is pretty broad.”
With more than 700 support troops, the 122nd ASB fulfills a variety of needs so the aviators can move through the skies.
“While the motor pool is out getting my ground readiness up, my CPN (command post node) team is supporting another chain of command — that’s the reality of what we do,” Atkins added.
She also encouraged the leaders to think about how they are going to train their platoons.
“Think outside of the box. Get out of your comfort zone,” she urged them. “You’ve got a combat medic who has a very technical skill. I don’t want him training with other medics. I want him getting out among our motor pool Soldiers — out with Bravo Company mechanics, who don’t get that exposure every day. It’s that cross exposure that matters. Then they’ll start understanding where they fit into the big picture.”
The development training helped 2nd Lt. Pasquale Balena with Company A, understand his own place in that picture.
“It’s a great way to meet and work with other sections in our battalion so we can develop that perspective,” Balena said.
For Command Sgt. Maj. Kirk Innis, 122nd ASB, that perspective is better gained sooner than later.
“We can use this time to learn to work better together so that when we are in a hostile environment, it isn’t our first time,” said Innis.