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NEWS | July 2, 2021

Chemical brigade executes successful field exercise in wake of COVID environment

By Sgt. 1st Class Brent Powell 76th Operational Response Command

More than 1,000 Army Reserve Soldiers from 16 states across the nation, recently joined forces here to take part in a two-week field training exercise titled Rote Drache.

The exercise, held by the 415th Chemical Brigade, 76th Operational Response Command, was the first opportunity many units have had to train together in a field environment since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020.

“This exercise was a reintegration into the field environment allowing Soldiers to build teamwork, hone basic Soldier skills and improve their field craft,” said Col. Andrew Talmadge, brigade commander, 415th Chemical Brigade, 76th Operational Response Command. “The goal was to rebuild basic Army warrior skills for the squad and platoon level in order to develop and execute those skills to standard, and also to blend those basic warrior skills into their MOS (military occupational specialty) functions.”

The exercise provided essential training for the brigade’s three organic battalions, as well as a battalion from the 455th Chemical Brigade. It was focused on six-days of intense field training that was broken into seven different lanes. The lanes provided 15 platoons a daily variety of challenging and diverse training opportunities.

“The lanes were grouped by a platoons specific capabilities and each lane had a different scenario each day,” said Master Sgt. Jay Drucas, operations noncommissioned officer for the 485th Chemical Battalion, and operations NCO for Task Force Eval, 415th Chem. Bde. “The first three days were focused specifically on Army Warrior Tasks. The second three days were a combination of both AWT and their MOS specific training skill sets. The training design allowed each platoon to go out and conduct their specific missions while honing their AWT skills.”

The platoons ran 24-hour operations conducting both daytime and nighttime missions. According to Drucas the Soldiers conducted over 200 missions during the course of the exercise, proving that units can once again conduct critical collective training safely and to standard.

“Coming out of the COVID environment and virtual battle assemblies and getting back into a field training environment allowed Soldiers to get invaluable troop leading procedure time, while leveraging external resources to get crucial feedback to help them improve their tactics, techniques, and procedures,” said Drucas. “COVID still impacted how we executed life support and sustainment, but our mitigation procedures were executed very well. We had no cases of COVID during the exercise and were able to successfully execute this exercise in field conditions.”

Another senior leader who saw the exercise as a success was Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Edwards, command sergeant major, 485th Chemical Battalion, 415th Chem. Bde. “I think it was successful because were able to get Soldiers out of the COVID mindset and be Soldiers again,” he said. “In the beginning of the training everyone was kind of hesitant due to the COVID environment we have been in for the past year and a half, but once we started conducting missions, everything started rolling along and the motivation across the formation escalated. Soldiers were able to get out there and get after the training. It was also a great experience getting to know each other face to face again, while being able to collaborate and bond not just at the small unit level, but across battalions and the brigade. Personally, I’m happy we were able to come out here and get more than 1,000 Soldiers trained with no COVID positive cases. This is a big win and I’m pretty proud.”

“For the past year, Soldiers were frustrated because they wanted to train and couldn’t because of COVID,” said Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Hurst, a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Observer, Controller, Trainer (OCT), assigned to 1st Army. “Coming here, many of them looked at this as a huge opportunity to get back to building their skills. They were very focused on the training here and motivation was high throughout. I saw a drastic improvement in the Soldiers performance and adaptability from the first day of training to the last.”

All the Soldiers who participated in the training seemed to take something positive away from it. “COVID really took these collective training opportunities away from us,” said Sgt. Joshua Cushing, a platoon sergeant and native of Jamestown, Pennsylvania, assigned to the 300th Chemical Company, 485th Chem. Bn. “Being able to get back in the field gave me the opportunity to take over as a platoon sergeant and test my knowledge and capabilities. It really boosted morale and built unit cohesion.”

“After the first couple of days we got back into the groove and performed like there had never been a break,” said Sgt. Shayne Hamilton, operations noncommissioned officer and native of Newburg, West Virginia, assigned to the 300th Chemical Company, 485th Chem. Bn., 415 th Chem. Bde. “Overall I think it went well. The communication was great, we worked together very well as a team and we got it done.”

As the training event came to a close, Talmadge said he was very proud of all his Soldiers and what they had accomplished. “All the Soldiers performed extremely well throughout the exercise,” he said. “Their level of motivation and their eagerness to get after training and develop their skills was phenomenal. We had junior NCOs performing roles as company first sergeants, and we had extremely junior officers leading companies, and they both performed very well. I have full faith and confidence that each of these units will continue to grow over time and build upon what they learned here.”

Training in the shadow of COVID didn’t seem to keep the units or Soldiers from reaching their training objectives, and at the end of the day Talmadge seemed pleased with the outcome of the exercise. “Overall, I think this exercise was very successful,” he said. “I wasn’t looking for units to come out here and execute at top level perfect performance. As many Soldiers have said, we were out here knocking the rust off after being in a virtual training environment for nearly 24-months due to COVID. I felt we achieved what I wanted to; increasing our Soldiers battlefield survivability in the shoot, move, and communicate tasks. This exercise was important in a lot of ways, but mainly because it brought us all back together to train collectively, and we showed that despite COVID we can successfully execute collective training again.”