Guard readies for possible 2019 deployment with NY training
Soldiers from the Vermont Army National Guard and attached units are undergoing annual training at Fort Drum, New York, in anticipation of a potential large-scale deployment in 2019. ADAM SILVERMAN/FREE PRESS
Vermont Army National Guard soldiers fire a mortar on a range at Fort Drum, N.Y., during an exercise Thursday, June 15, 2017. Some 2,000 soldiers are taking part in the annual two-week training at the sprawling military base in upstate New York, north of Syracuse.(Photo: ADAM SILVERMAN/FREE PRESS)Buy Photo
FORT DRUM, N.Y. – Annual training for the Vermont Army National Guard is taking on a new urgency this year as the force prepares for a potential large-scale deployment in 2019. Some 2,000 soldiers from Vermont and various other Guard units attached to the Colchester-based 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team are about halfway through their two-week exercises at Fort Drum, New York, a sprawling campus 130 miles west of Burlington. The military base is home to thousands of active-duty soldiers and family members and plays host to thousands more military members who train on Fort Drum’s 108,000 acres 168 square miles of rough terrain: expansive firing ranges, marshy lowlands, dense woods, airstrips, makeshift towns built like movie sets to practice urban combat.
A delegation of Vermont National Guard commanders, state lawmakers and representatives of the administration of Gov. Phil Scott traveled by helicopter this week from Burlington to Fort Drum to learn about the training and the possible deployment that’s on the horizon.
Vermont Army National Guard Capt. Mathew Hefner, commander of Bravo troop, 1st squadron, 172nd Cavalry of the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, talks to a delegation of Guard commanders and state officials about a training exercise Thursday, June 15, 2017, at Fort Drum, N.Y. The Green Mountain Boys battle flag flies behind Hefner. (Photo: ADAM SILVERMAN/FREE PRESS)
The Guard’s commander, Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, said Army training ramps up on a cycle of four to five years, with a unit expected to be in top form and ready to deploy at the end of the process. For the Vermont Guard, peak readiness will come in fall 2019, Cray said.
“Then if the nation needs us for security or whatever they need around the world, we’d be ready to do that,” he said. “Right now we’re in our third year of building on that cycle. The brigade will be fully capable toward the end of 2019, with a possible deployment after that.”
For now, there are no definitive plans for what that mission might involve, or where it could take place. But Vermont Army and Air National Guard personnel have served extensively in the Middle East, including in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, as well as other locations throughout the world.
“In two years, there’s a major deployment coming up, for one year,” said Jean O’Sullivan, a Democratic Vermont state representative from Burlington who also serves as state chairwoman for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve organization. She accompanied the delegation Thursday to observe training at Fort Drum.
Vermont State Rep. Jean O’Sullivan, D-Burlington, right, and Brig. Gen. Mark Lovejoy, director of joint staff for the Vermont National Guard, ride on a Black Hawk helicopter from Burlington to Fort Drum, N.Y., on Thursday, June 15, 2017, to observe soldiers as they take part in annual training. (Photo: ADAM SILVERMAN/FREE PRESS)
“We’re trying to work with our employer community right now,” O’Sullivan added, noting she appreciates the time to prepare. “We’re going around now doing town meetings.”
Many of Guard members taking part in the two-week training are part-time soldiers and work civilian jobs in addition to their military duties. Fort Drum’s massive scale allows the Guardsmen and -women to train in ways that are impossible in Vermont, even at the sizable Camp Ethan Allen firing range in Jericho, Cray said.
“We can blow things up, literally blow things up,” he said.
Vermont Army National Guard Humvees line up before driving onto a firing range for a training exercise Thursday, June 15, 2017, at Fort Drum, N.Y. The Humvees are organized by type of mounted weapon: .50-caliber machine guns on the bottom row, MK19 40mm belt-fed grenade launchers in the middle row, and M240 7.62mm machine guns on the top row. (Photo: ADAM SILVERMAN/FREE PRESS)
The delegation that traveled Thursday to Fort Drum saw the truth in Cray’s words. On one firing range, an array of Humvees lined up with weapons mounted on their turrets, including .50-caliber machine guns and belt-fed grenade launchers. The vehicles sped off down the range, where soldiers blasted away at targets as white smoke rose from the landscape.
Elsewhere, a pair of 120 mm mortars with a range of over 4 miles sat on a hill above a swampy area. With a commander’s order, the trio of soldiers who handled each weapon fired a volley of three shells, dropping them one by one into the tube and ducking quickly before an explosion with a loud report and bright flash sent the shells downrange. They detonated in the distance perhaps a mile with a cloud of smoke and debris.
Vermont Army National Guard soldiers fire a mortar on a range at Fort Drum, N.Y., during a training exercise Thursday, June 15, 2017. (Photo: ADAM SILVERMAN/FREE PRESS)
“From the Canadian border to the Massachusetts border, the National Guard is part of our fabric,” Vermont Transportation Secretary Joseph Flynn said as he stood in a two-story observation tower and listened to the chatter of .50-caliber machine-gun fire, a low, repetitive thud-thud-thud. “To be able to come here today and see how they train and prepare for the missions that they do is truly an honor.”
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