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Back to basics

Closing with the enemy: Charlie Company at Fort Drum

By Staff Sgt. Robert Brown
114th Public Affairs Detachment

August 17. 2013 6:27PM
Capt. Alan Corey of Lyman, left, company commander, watches over Staff Sgt. Pat Filkins, foreground, a squad leader from North Hampton, as he leads his squad in assaulting an objective during rehearsals for live-fire training at Fort Drum, N.Y., on Aug. 5. Their unit, C Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment (Mountain) New Hampshire National Guard, is training on individual and collective skills as they prepare for future missions as part of the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain). (Courtesy photo)

Editor's Note: "Charlie Company," the sole combat unit in the New Hampshire National Guard, is due home today after its annual two-weeks training at Fort Drum, N.Y. Guard Staff Sgt. Robert Brown wrote the following story about the company's experience and the Sunday News is happy to share it today with our readers.

"To close with and destroy the enemy." It is the seemingly simple, yet deceptively complex mission of the infantry, the branch of the U.S. Army charged with making the closest contact with the nation's enemies. Famous World War II journalist Ernie Pyle described them this way: "They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts ... and in the end they are the guys that wars can't be won without." To win, infantrymen must be confident in their weapons, their teams and themselves.

Over the past week, members of the New Hampshire Army National Guard's C Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment (Mountain) have refined their skills at Fort Drum, N.Y. The live-fire exercise is the culminating point of a yearlong effort to certify it as ready to deploy if called upon. Done at the squad level (a nine-man unit divided into two "fire teams"), it is a vitally important but complex and potentially dangerous part of that mission.

"The mission of the mountain infantry soldier is to close with and destroy the enemies of this nation. Key to the successful completion of that mission is the ability to effectively deliver deadly accurate fire upon said enemy while simultaneously maneuvering within close proximity to kill or capture him. The Infantry, unlike any other of the branches, is the sole formation that is able to seize and hold ground no matter the terrain," said Capt. Alan Corey of Lyman, the commander of C Company.

Having deployed to Iraq from 2004-2005 and Afghanistan in 2010, C Company, also known as "Charlie" Company, specializes in mountain warfare. Its core competency, however, remains the infantry mission. Since its return from Afghanistan in 2010, the unit has incorporated many new soldiers with its combat veterans. So, the unit's training has shifted back to "the basics" of infantry work and away from the counterinsurgency that defined its combat tours.

To address this, the squad members worked as a team to approach and assault an objective consisting of several plywood buildings and plastic silhouettes representing enemy soldiers.

Working to keep the "enemy" in place during the squad's movements were several crews using M-240B machine guns. Every soldier must know his own role within the squad, as well as the fundamentals of weapons employment and safety.

A career-long infantryman and combat veteran of both of Charlie Company's deployments, Corey was enthusiastic about the training value of this exercise.

"It (the exercise) collectively brings marksmanship and the maneuver piece into one training event that utilizes live ammunition, and it is the next best thing to combat. For the individual infantry soldier, it drives home the seriousness of this business. It is also an eye opener and a motivational event for the younger guys," said Corey.

This is particularly important for Charlie Company over the next two years as it prepares to be part of the only National Guard rotation at a major Army training center in 2014. The company will head to the regular Army's Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., next summer as part of the Vermont Army National Guard's 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain).

Designed to closely simulate actual combat conditions, JRTC has a full-time staff that play the role of the "enemy" while evaluating the performance of the visiting unit.

Staff Sgt. Pat Filkins, of New Hampton, was one of nine squad leaders to run his soldiers through the course of fire. A veteran of Charlie's 2010 deployment to Afghanistan, he said, "The best learning you will ever have is combat; live-fire retrains your mind to handle the stresses of real combat."

This is only the first portion of Charlie Company's training for this two-week session. They also conducted additional live-fire exercises with larger units and mortars, as well as worked on platoon attacks and ambushes. Known as lanes training, these exercises review and then evaluate the unit's ability to maneuver against an enemy in different combat situations.

Corey views this as a perfect complement to the live-ammunition portions of the company's preparation for JRTC.

"The lanes training concentrates on the maneuver piece without the safety concerns that you have in a live-fire scenario."

Pvt. Brian Foreman, an infantryman from Canterbury whose first drill was in May, shared Corey's enthusiasm for both the live-fire and lanes training.

"There is a lot more to this than I thought; it has definitely made me feel more professional."

In between training sessions, the company's soldiers live up to Ernie Pyle's moniker, spending their two weeks at Fort Drum living out of their packs. While many of the veteran soldiers are used to primitive field conditions, it is a new experience for more recent additions to the unit, if not a surprising one.

When helping to select his military specialty, Foreman's recruiter asked him whether he wanted to stay in the barracks or in the woods. His answer was an unequivocal choice that led him to Charlie Company, "I chose to live in the woods."

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