Guard Soldiers Get Joint, Combined Training in Granite Triangle Exercise

By Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT PICKETT, Va., Feb. 28, 2007 - The gray clouds seemed to turn darker with each passing minute. The sun was blotted out from the darkened sky as a dark shadow loomed overhead, a whirlwind of air blowing leaves, grass and nearly everything not tied down across the field.

Four New Hampshire Army National Guard soldiers rushed to complete their mission in the downdraft created by a U.S. Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter, one of the U.S. military's largest helicopters, as it hovered close to the ground. The soldiers from Company C, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment (Mountain), rushed to sling load a Humvee to a yellow hook dangling at head level from the hovering aircraft.

The sling-load training was part of Exercise Granite Triangle, an annual training exercise that ran here Feb. 11 to 25. The exercise brought together about 250 U.S. military personnel, including a large National Guard contingent, and Canadian troops from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Active Army, Army Reserve, Navy and Marine Corps personnel also took part.

The Canadians commanded this year's exercise, which focused on military operations in urban terrain, identifying and reacting to improvised explosive devices, sling-loading and rappelling operations, and operating in a joint-service environment.

Col. W.A. MacDonald, commander of the 36th Canadian Brigade Group, was the Granite Triangle commander. The two-week event was capped off with a field training exercise that incorporated all of the training. The soldiers were familiar with most of the tasks, but the chance to work with members of other services was one of the most valuable parts of the exercise, most agreed.

"It seems like everything is a joint operation today," said Army Spc. Jacob Mavrogeorge, of Company C. "The hardest thing is being able to recognize ranks sometimes."

Others agreed. "It's nice because you never know who you're going to pick up if you need help (if deployed). It could be the Air Force, Marines or Navy," said Army Spc. Justin McNeff, also with Company C.

U.S. soldiers have worked hand in hand with Canadian soldiers during previous exercises, but that changed this year. Because the main contingent of Canadian troops who take part in the exercise is currently deployed, Canadians commanded the exercise, but no Canadian ground troops participated.

"Last year we did more of a coalition-type thing with the Canadians," said Pfc. Andrew Cormier, of the New Hampshire Army Guard's 237th Military Police Battalion. "They're overseas right now, so we haven't gotten to do anything like that."

But the Guard soldiers learned a lot while working with the Canadians in years past. "It was great," Cormier said. "Those guys know their stuff. Those guys are right on it, right on every time. It was good to see what they do and what we do. It was a good time, and I think it helped out knowing if we do go overseas we can actually (work together) if attached to a coalition force."

Going overseas is in the near future for Cormier and his unit as they are slated for a rotation to Iraq. Because of that, the training had an added impact for many of the 237th's soldiers.

"Well, it's teaching us to keep our heads down," Cormier said. "We convoy here, watching for IEDs and things like that. We don't just ride in the truck and come over and then mount up. We're mounted when we leave and mounted when we come home. We're mounted anywhere we go."

But the training also had elements that could be applied to the National Guard's state missions. "It gives us, as a company, more mobility for any at-home emergency calls that we might do, like (responding to) flooding," McNeff said, referring to the sling-load training. "If we have to move people like we did last spring and fall or if we have to move any equipment over flood areas."

Many soldiers thought the sling-loading operations were among the best parts of the training. "Getting under the chopper," said Army Spc. Adam Haggett of Company C about his favorite part of the training. "Just the adrenaline rush from having the chopper five feet over your head. I can't even explain it, just the feeling you have when you're under there is just amazing."

Cormier said that that the visit by Maj. Gen. Kenneth Clark, the adjutant general of the New Hampshire Guard, was one of the most memorable parts of the exercise. "The general came in and saw what we were doing," Cormier said, "and, hopefully, he was impressed, because I was impressed with what we were doing."

(Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy is assigned to the National Guard Bureau.)

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