FORT HOOD, Texas –
The U.S. Army Reserve constantly readies itself for the conflicts of today while shaping for the demands of tomorrow.
Over the past year, the pandemic shifted most training to virtual environments. With a return to in-person training, Reserve forces prepare to provide vital capabilities for the Army and joint forces both at home or on the battlefield. Army Reserve Soldiers of the 961st Engineer Battalion got back to mastering these fundamentals this month at Operation Hood Strike.
“Every training we’re conducting is based off of the unit’s mission essential task list (METL),” said 961st Engineer Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Desmon Green. “Operation Hood Strike allows us to execute METL tasks that are necessary for us to build preparedness and create a better state of readiness. We’re in our second year of rebuilding after deployment so getting Soldiers out here post-COVID, getting them the opportunity to use equipment, to work on their skills, and hone their craft is a big deal.”
From July 10-23, the battalion, composed of six companies spanning across Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, joined together for one mission: improving their combat skill proficiency at the individual, squad and platoon levels. Soldiers conduct training on convoy operations, weapon familiarization, improvised explosive device detection and limited neutralization, flailing operations, rafting operations and the full enclosure of an improved ribbon bridge (IRB) across Lake Belton.
The IRB benefits military forces by providing the option to quickly close distances and transport critical capabilities, weapon systems, troops and supplies over water when permanent bridges are not available, enabling the ability to employ and sustain forces worldwide.
“We’re short on personnel so our plan is to cross-train every Soldier to be able to perform every job safely,” said 1st Lt. Jordan Sims, the first platoon leader of the 341st Multi-Role Bridging Company, which is the outfit tasked with assembling the IRB. “We are a rare unit so I feel lucky. It’s great being here and building bridges to allow crossings after attending a virtual annual training last year.”
“We continue to focus on the fundamentals … what we came here to do,” said Green on the ease of showcasing their work to visiting distinguished visitors like the 416th Theater Engineer Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Matthew Baker, who was able to visit the troops during the training event. “We define our success by showing how we can best perform the tasks we have been given with what we have and by providing solutions to the problems presented before us.”
The Platoon Leader of the 364th Engineer Platoon (Area Clearance), 1st Lt. Andrew Oordt has first-hand experience on overcoming obstacles, even if it’s with patience.
“Our Soldiers are training to clear areas using the remote M160 Robotic Mine Flail. We’re training as much as we can to sustain our operability,” he said of working in the Texas heat.
The M160 benefits Soldiers by providing standoff protection as its high-speed, rotating chained hammers dig and pound the soil, resulting in the detonation or shattering of anti-personnel mines during area clearance operations to support friendly force movement, as well as protect equipment and decrease casualties.
In the event the M160 is unavailable, Soldiers detect and neutralize IEDs the old-fashioned way – with hand-held probes.
“There are clearly some things beyond our control,” said Green. “How we manage what we have is what defines us.”
With an overseas assignment on the horizon, the 961st committed to a successful Operation Hood Strike with every Soldier and piece of equipment brought and taken home safely. Plus, they left more trained, more proficient and more ready today for tomorrow’s demands, according to leadership.
“We’re excited to be here using the skills Soldiers have held onto over the last year,” Green said. “We’re going to be a lot more prepared for upcoming missions because of what we are doing here now.”