Fort Bliss is proving to be the perfect place for a visiting National Guard unit from the East Coast to do its final training before deploying.
About 4,000 soldiers from the 30 th Armored Brigade Combat Team arrived at Fort Bliss in mid-August and they will train here for about 60 days.
This fall, “Old Hickory,” as it is nicknamed after President Andrew Jackson, will deploy to Kuwait.
“It is a great experience,” said Cpl. Jason Solosky, a gunner with Alpha Company, 1 st Battalion, 252nd Armor Regiment, 30 th ABCT.
“For a lot of guys, it is the first time being away from home, so it is giving them a whole new understanding of the brotherhood of the military,” said Solosky, from Raeford, N.C. “They are getting a lot of training out of it. They get to experience new vehicles, new weapons, great leaders.”
The 30 th Armored Brigade Combat Team is headquartered in Clinton, N.C., but has battalions from North and South Carolina, West Virginia and Ohio.
Before coming to Fort Bliss, the 30 th ABCT did a month-long training rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin in California.
There, they identified some areas that they still need to work on, said Col. Rob Bumgardner, the brigade commander.
“We will be focusing on our lethality,” said Bumgardner, from Angier, North Carolina. “We want to become sharper at our war-fighting skills. We have identified some things at NTC that we feel we need to improve on.
“That allows us to come here and focus on gunnery – tank gunnery, Bradley gunnery, artillery stuff and staff training to work on our synchronization,” he added.
Old Hickory is quite familiar with Fort Bliss and its world-class training area.
During August 2018, the brigade traveled here and took part in a month-long training exercise.
“As far as I’m concerned as an ABCT commander with the Guard, there isn’t a better place to come and get after it,” Bumgardner said.
Bumgardner said his brigade is ready to deploy now but this final train-up at Fort Bliss will allow it to continue to work on its war-fighting skills.
“This allows us to continue to sharpen our skills as we go forward,” Bumgardner said. “In the Army, it is constant retraining — muscle memory.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Derrick Singletary, the senior enlisted leader for the 236 th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 30 th ABCT, said getting additional time at gunnery is crucial for a National Guard unit’s eventual success.
“Being in the Guard, we do get gunnery time back home, but not like going out on a deployment,” said Singletary, from Laurinburg, North Carolina. “It is muscle memory. You have to remember this stuff left and right. We are able to get more time here on the range.”
Staff Sgt. Joshua Hancock, a master gunner with the 236 th BEB, said training at a place like Fort Bliss is critically important for a National Guard unit to help build itself into a team.
“This is really where the National Guard builds its cohesion,” said Hancock, also from Laurinburg, North Carolina. “This is what really brings you together as a team. We can hash out a lot of the kinks we don’t get to when we are on a traditional drilling status.”
Hancock said the training ranges at Fort Bliss are “probably the best I’ve seen in my career.”
Staff Sgt. Walter Blower, a squad leader with Alpha Company, 1-252 Armor, said it’s important to get away from your family and civilian job and concentrate on their wartime mission.
“As always — myself included — all the soldiers, they are missing their girlfriends, wives, children, but all are very focused on what they are doing right now,” said Blower, from Lexington, North Carolina.
“They are getting a lot of good training value out of what we are doing,” Blower added. “The military mind-set is coming back to them. They are very quickly transitioning from a part-time soldier mind-set to the full-time soldier, which we are now.”
“I’m very proud of what we are doing here,” Blower said.