The Pennsylvania National Guard’s 56th Stryker Brigade is preparing for intensive exercises at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California later this summer.
Soldiers spent the last several days at the Depot at Naval Support Activity in Mechanicsburg loading vehicles and equipment on rail cars to transport across the country. The soldiers have spent weeks assembling the more than 1000 vehicles and pieces of artillery they will need while at the National Training Center, which is roughly the size of Rhode Island.
Rail Operations is a meticulous process. Each vehicle needs to be driven onto a flatbed rail car and secured with chains, double-checked for safety, and then the rail cars need to be hitched together for the 2,500-mile journey.
Lieutenant Margo Cronin, unit movement officer for the Stryker Brigade Combat Team, has spent nearly a year planning for the training event, which is meant to prepare the brigade for a possible deployment.
She said it’s important the soldiers can train with their own equipment.
“That way when they’re using it to do their task, it’s their comfort level, it’s what they’re used to working with and what they’re training on,” Cronin said.
Public affairs officer Major Greg McElwain says this is the first time the brigade will participate in a training of this magnitude.
“It’s taking all the individual training and combining it to make a total training event that tests not only the ability of the individuals but the coordination of the whole,” McElwain said.
Every element of the unit — from mechanics to medics to infantry soldiers — will be tested and evaluated on their performance.
But, McElwain said, it all starts by getting the gear on the rail.
“All this training couldn’t happen if it weren’t for the support soldiers that were here doing all of this behind the scenes labor, all of these tasks that make it possible for the soldiers to go and train even harder,” he said.