FORT MCCOY, Wis. – Fort McCoy and Volk Field, Wisconsin’s two largest military installations, are no strangers to extensive training exercises. However, it’s rare when the bases get as many service members in one spot for one operation as they have now.
For two weeks running through July 27, McCoy and Volk are conducting the Army and Air National Guard’s annual international Operation Global Patriot exercise, hosting roughly 3,000 National Guard Troops from 45 different states and six different coalition nations. The exercise’s overall training goal is for different coalition nations and National Guard units to work together in real-world scenarios.
“Patriot is an opportunity for joint operations to occur,” said Army Col. Timothy Gowen, commander of 29th Combat Aviation Brigade of the Maryland Army National Guard. Gowen’s brigade has about 950 soldiers from five different states involved in the Patriot exercise. As an aviation unit, Gowen’s 29th CAB is working extensively with National Guard airmen for many training exercises, including daily runs and walkthroughs of medical evacuation aircraft.
“It’s an opportunity for us to receive support from them, and for us to give [support] to them,” Gowen said of the airmen.
Army and Air Guard members working together are not the only joint-service aspect of this operation, however.
“It’s very interactive,” said Capt. Maarten Morsink of the Royal Netherlands Air Force Operational Healthcare Department. This is Morsink’s sixth time attending Operation Patriot; this year he is with about 75 other RNAF Troops. “We learn from each other and I think it’s a good thing to work internationally.”
During Operation Patriot, Morsink is involved with coordinating and negotiating planes and helicopters to keep a steady flow of mock-patients throughout Volk Field.
However, the 29th’s main focus is bringing together all of its subordinate battalions, Gowen said, as the unit is scheduled for a deployment in roughly two years. The 29th’s command jumped at the chance to be involved with Operation Patriot, they jumped at the chance.
“We were looking for something exactly like this,” Gowen said. The size and involvement of the operation would allow the 29th to “hone themselves” as a single combat unit, as Operation Patriot is allowing the 29th to stay relatively autonomous from other units.
Although the brigade is training on everything from weapons qualifications to convoy and movement operations, all were dwarfed by the 29th’s “capstone” centerpiece training mission set for July 20, putting almost every 29th CAB unit into play.
“We’re trying to get every battalion we can involved with the capstone,” Gowen said. The mission will send several UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters into the air, filled with soldiers from the Maryland National Guard’s C Troop, 1-158th Cavalry Scout Regiment. After a short ride, the Scouts will dismount and tactically assault a mock village named Bayquobah, extracting mock al Qaeda operatives portrayed by actors and Air Force personnel.
For the Scouts, however, that’s not even half their job. They’ll have been watching the training village for more than two solid days before even setting foot inside. The unit’s main objective is usually reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.
“Training with the aviation brigade is a perfect fit because in order for us to accomplish our mission, we need air support,” said Army Capt. Adam Tiffen, C Troop commander. “It’s rare we get to work with such a variety of aircraft.”
Sgt. Patrick McCormack, a C Troop sniper who recently joined the Maryland Guard after several years with the active duty Army, seemed pleased with the operation’s structure so far.
“It’s rare that the command will come to the [lower-level soldiers] and actually ask their opinions on how they can help out,” McCormack said. “With all the training and preparation we have here, it’s actually been great training.” He said that Operation Patriot is set up in such a way that allows the unit to keep each troop in a role that they would see in a combat situation, adding that snipers often get “overlooked” and put into other support roles for the unit when at training events.
“This was the first time shooting long-ranged rifles in about a-year-and-a-half,” said Sgt. Jeff Smull, another C Troop sniper.
All three snipers were previously in the active duty Army and recently joined the Maryland National Guard after a break in service, so now they’ve seen both sides of the coin. They also said Operation Patriot is another example to dispel the old thoughts that the National Guard’s training is inferior to that of active duty Soldiers.
“Compared to previous National Guard annual training operations, this has been by far the largest and most extensive,” said Sgt. Nicholas Pitz, a fellow C Troop sniper. Staying at Ft. McCoy for Patriot, the C Troop soldiers had high praise for the 100-year-old installation.
“The facilities here are excellent,” Pitz said, adding he enjoyed everything from the weapons ranges to the different air drop zones to the cadre working on the different training sites. “I’d be happy to come back to McCoy.”
“[The facilities] helped us make the training really realistic,” Smull added.
Col. Gowen of the 29th also said he is enjoying his stint at McCoy.
“Ft. McCoy is really terrific in terms of different training sites available,” he said. “Everything about McCoy is helping us to make [the training] as realistic as possible.”
Though large-scale training such as Operation Global Patriot is not the norm for these units, they relish both the size and the realism the two-week operation offers.
“For us, any time you can sync up operations [throughout the brigade], there is great realism there.” Gowen said of the 29th CAB.
Morsink said that he appreciates the multinational aspect because that’s a reality in today’s battlefield, touching directly on the overall mission goal of Operation Global Patriot.
“Because we operate internationally,” he said, “I can’t even imagine having a single service.”
Pfc. Alyson Berzinski, 112TH MOBILE PUBLIC AFFAIRS DETACHMENT
Spc. Eric Liesse 112TH MOBILE PUBLIC AFFAIRS DETACHMENT