Originally created 07/25/02

Guard brushes up on combat skills



FORT STEWART, Ga. - After a year of training for and executing a peacekeeping mission, Georgia National Guard's infantry is back in the business of firing its guns and cannons.

It has been two summers since 1st Lt. Thomas Bennett, of Waycross, worked inside a Bradley Fighting Vehicle with his gunner and driver. They took a while to get in the groove of synchronizing their maneuvers with the shelling from the Bradley's 25 mm gun.

"We're brushing up on what we already knew," Lt. Bennett said.

The 48th Infantry Brigade sent 2,300 soldiers to Fort Stewart for its annual summer training. The three-week training exercise wrapped up Friday.

About half of those training had deployed to Bosnia last year for a six-month peacekeeping rotation with the 3rd Infantry Division.

Peacekeeping is much different from combat. Combat is all about force. Peacekeeping is about negotiations and public relations.

In combat, the Guard's infantry soldiers drive Bradley Fighting Vehicles across a battlefield.

In Bosnia, they drove armored Humvees through villages or stood guard at a base camp.

It will take time to sharpen their combat skills again.

When the 3rd Infantry Division deployed for a yearlong peacekeeping mission, its combat readiness rating dropped. The active-duty troops returned in October, and by February the division's rating had returned to the highest level. Combat readiness ratings are classified, so the Georgia Guard couldn't comment on where it stands.

It will, however, take the Guard longer to improve its readiness than the regular Army. After all, the Guard's members train on weekends and for two weeks in the summer.

For the next two years, the 48th Brigade's training will prepare its troops for a trip to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. It's there where the Army's fighting units prove their battle skills.

The Georgia Guard is scheduled to go there in 2005, said Lt. Col. Ken Baldowski, a Guard spokesman in Atlanta. Their last trip was in 1996.

"What we're doing at Fort Stewart is returning to the basics," he said.

Adding to the 48th Brigade's challenge, the unit fielded new Bradley Fighting Vehicles on this training rotation, and soldiers spent the past few weeks learning the new operating system, said Sgt. Eddie Jackson, a Bradley driver.

The Bradley is an armored vehicle with tank treads and a 25 mm cannon mounted on front. It's designed to hold three crewmembers and up to seven infantry ground fighters who ride to battle on benches in the back.

For Sgt. Jackson, the upgraded Bradley model meant learning a new steering system.

"No, I can't say I've mastered it yet but I'm not too far from it," Sgt. Jackson said. "We got up at 4 o'clock this morning and went back out there. And we licked it."

For the most part, the Georgia guardsmen report their combat skills aren't that rusty after nearly a year of peacekeeping. And some skills - such as communication between troops - improved, and that's made them better fighters.

"When you go spend six months together, you're better," Lt. Bennett said.