Four Indiana National Guard soldiers talked with reporters at the Pentagon today about the experiences they had training alongside Australian, Japanese and Indonesian service members as part of the Defense Department’s “Showcasing lethality” series.
The soldiers – from the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team – were the first from the Guard to lead one of the annual U.S. Indo-Pacific Command series of Pacific Pathways exercises, said Army Command Sgt. Maj. James R. Gordon, the state command sergeant major.
The exercise is a way to build expeditionary readiness while at the same time reinforcing the U.S. Army’s commitment to its allies and partners in the Pacific region, the sergeant major said.
A battalion from the brigade went to each of the countries. Army Sgt. Samuel Gawaluck, a squad leader with the 2nd Battalion, 151st Infantry, said his unit trained right alongside a Japanese unit.
“For the first part of the training, it was about chemical warfare, urban operations and platoon attacks,” the Lafayette, Indiana, police officer said. “We also conducted a bilateral field training exercise for three days that culminated with both militaries assaulting an urban area.”
The American and Japanese soldiers would observe each other as they pressed an attac, or cleared a building, giving soldiers from both countries and opportunity to learn, he said.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Bollhoeffer is a platoon sergeant with A Company, 1 st Battalion, 293rd Infantry. His unit went to Australia and worked alongside both the Australian Defense Force and U.S. Marines. His platoon would move in and relieve the Marines to go on another mission, then the Marines would move in and relieve his unit, he said.
The training site was a massive area on the eastern side of the continent. “It was winter for Australia, but it was not the winter we have in Indiana,” Bollhoeffer said. “Watching the Australians fight and working alongside them throughout the mission set was pretty educational. They are very good at what they do, they are very disciplined. They were curious as to how we conduct exercises.”
The Australians brought mechanized forces into the exercise, Bollhoeffer said. “We had to integrate that mindset into how we train,” he said. “It’s awful nice to have tanks over your right shoulder when you are moving across an objective.”
Bollhoeffer said that nothing in the exercise was “canned.” There was no set recipe for the way things would turn out, he explained, and that made it invaluable for the Indiana Guardsmen.
The whole exercise was an eye-opener for Army Sgt. David Kent, a section leader with Headquarters Company of the 76th Brigade, who said it increased the Indiana Guardsmen’s appreciation for U.S. partners and allies. While he was in Australia, he noted, the exercise coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Hamel, where Australian and U.S. soldiers fought together on the Western Front in World War I.
“Gawaluck reflected on his experience working with Japanese soldiers.
“Not many guys get a chance to train with the Japanese Self-Defense Force,” he said. “It was very cool, very realistic. It was a lot different than training in Indiana, where it is flat. We were hiking up mountains with our rucks on. It was pretty amazing in our break time to talk with the Japanese and realize they are guys just like us. They are there to protect their homeland, and we are with them to train to protect our homeland.”