Bravo Troop joins massive guardsmen training at Camp Grayling

National Guard personnel take a break during their training exercises.

National Guard personnel take a break during their training exercises.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on the local Bravo Troop taking part in training at Camp Grayling Today former News Advocate Managing Editor Dave Barber looks at some of the things the troop does to remain ready for being called upon for active duty.

GRAYIING – They were everywhere.

In the trees, and laying on the ground. Kneeling down behind bushes, and half-buried in the sand.

You couldn’t see, or hear them, but they were there, alright.

Perfectly camouflaged to blend in with their environment – leaves, branches, sand and more – an army of 3,500 soldiers of the National Guard continued their 15-day eXportable Combat Training Capability rotation (XCTC) at Camp Grayling over the weekend.

More than 60 members of the Black Knights of Manistee’s Bravo Troop were among them.

“Bravo Troop is spread all over,” said Sgt. Francis Williams, pointing to an unending wooded area behind him. “A lot of them are out there on recon (reconnaissance).

“Some of them might even be watching us, right now,” he said, laughing.

Williams and his four-man mortar unit from Bravo Troop were set up on the forest edge at Firing Point 304, a flat, open-field area surrounded by rolling hills. They were in constant radio communication with others from the unit, getting specific coordinates as to where to fire their 42-pound shell, if so ordered.

1st Lieutenant Tyler Piper, who accompanied the News Advocate on a tour of the camp on Saturday, said the two-week training session is demanding.

“This is hands-on, out-in-the-field training,” said Piper. “They get their classroom training every month, back at their armories.

“But up here, they put all that to practical use. They put in some long days, long nights, and it’s all meant to prepare them (for wherever they might be deployed).”

In the past decade, the Black Knights’ cavalry unit of Bravo Troop had been sent to serve in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Everything we do here, can be repeated in a hostile zone,” said Williams.

And though he carried a GPS (global positioning system) and was guided by a large, full-color map, even Piper had difficulty in tracking down the Bravo Troop mortar team, at first.

Finally, he found them blended in with the forest edge.

“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” said Piper “You don’t want to be seen, (by the enemy),”

Lieutenant Colonel William Humes, public affairs officer with the Michigan National Guard, said the extensive nighttime practice the guardsmen have been undergoing the past several days was to simulate “low-visibility conditions.”

“They have been really concentrating on that,” said Humes, “nighttime and limited-visibility training.”

The range Bravo Troop was practicing on Saturday was simulated encounters, only, and not live fire. (Earlier in the week they did practice on a live-fire range.)

While the majority of the guardsmen were from Michigan, several dozen were from surrounding states, all taking part in the joint maneuver training exercise, which concludes this week.

“We can bring XCTC to Camp Grayling at a fraction of what it would cost to send personnel and equipment all the way to Louisiana or California,” Major General Gregory Vadnais, adjutant general for the Michigan Guard, said prior to the XCTC beginning Aug. 13.

“Not only is XCTC saving money for the taxpayers, it is also allowing us to showcase our world-class training facility to some of our neighbors.”

The general said XCTC is designed to match the experience soldiers would get at one of the two combat training centers in the U.S.; the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., and the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.

The exercise will feature live-fire events from rifles, machine guns, mortars, howitzers and even aerial gunnery from helicopters.

Lift helicopters will also be used to shuttle soldiers around the training area.

Camp Grayling is the largest National Guard joint training center in the United States, covering 147,000 acres across Northern Michigan three counties.

The camp features four-season training for not only active and reserve components of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, but also more than 100 law enforcement agencies and units from Canada, Latvia, the United Kingdom, Hungary and Serbia.

Earlier this month Michigan National Guard officials in Lansing said Bravo Troop will soon be moved out of Manistee, to an armory in Wyoming, Mich.

On Monday, Humes said that order is still in place.

Editor’s note: Coming Wednesday, part 2 of 2 – meeting up with Bravo Troop’s mortar squad.

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