Author’s note: this is the fourth part in a multi-part series following the 2-108th Cavalry Squadron of the Louisiana National Guard as the unit prepares for its rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), at Fort Polk, LA. Each piece will tell a different part of the unit’s story, and give readers a glimpse into how National Guard units prepare for war. Read Part III here.
After spending October’s drill indoors filling out paperwork and making sure the administrative boxes have been checked, the 2-108th Cavalry Squadron of the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) is back in the field. For November, the Squadron deploy to two separate training locations; Alpha and Bravo Troops deploy to Camp Beauregard, while Charlie, Delta, and the Headquarters Troop (HHT) deploy to Fort Polk. Across both training locations, the 2-108’s mission is to complete their individual weapons qualification (IWQ).
The 2-108th is the reconnaissance element of the 256th IBCT, and as such their wartime mission is to observe and report the enemy, as well as defeat the enemy’s own reconnaissance efforts. To defeat enemy forces, the cavalry squadron primarily relies on indirect fire, close air support, or if the situation warrants, their heavy machine guns. The Soldier’s individual weapons, primarily M4 rifles and M9 pistols, are only used as a last resort.
However, it’s imperative each soldier, regardless of job function, qualify with their assigned weapon. IWQ is a recurring annual requirement and prerequisite to take part in the Joint Readiness Training Center rotation the squadron will be attending in June of 2019. During JRTC, the unit will be probed and attacked by the Opposition Force (OPFOR), and everyone will need to know how to defend themselves and their positions — like their observation posts, Tactical Operations Center (TOC), field hospitals, causality collection points, and unit supply areas.
“That’s something we’re working on as a unit,” says Captain Jeff Davis, Bravo Troop Commander. Captain Davis explains that during the Exportable Combat Training Capability (XCTC) rotation, essentially a scaled-down version of JRTC the unit attended in the summer of 2018, the 2-108th discovered they needed more work on defensive tactics, especially protecting vulnerable positions.
The soldiers of the 2-108th are cavalry troopers, and as such, guarding static positions isn’t really in their job description. However, it’s a skill all soldiers need to be proficient at. This weekend, each soldier must shoot their individual weapon in four events. The first is prone supported, then prone unsupported followed by the kneeling position. The final evolution is the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN; pronounced see-burn) shoot, where the soldier must don his or her protective mask then engaged a set number of targets. Each soldier must complete these four events during the day and at night in order to qualify.
While the qualification process is intense, the majority of the unit passes. As Specialist Jared Koob explains, soldiers generally enjoy the process — it’s one of the more fun things they get to do. They are also aware of how vital it is to their overall mission and surviving combat.
“[Qualifying] is important because our unit is almost all combat arms, even our medics and mechanics,” says Koob. “Anything could happen, and we could be sent out. If you can’t shoot, it presents an issue for your teammates and your brothers. You’re supposed to have their backs, but if you can’t shoot, you can’t have their backs. The Close Combat Optic (CCO) makes it almost impossible to miss, but you don’t want to go overseas and find out that your battle buddy can’t shoot.”
Many of the soldiers in the unit have similar feelings. They are acutely aware the 2-108th could, at any moment, be called upon to deploy. Given today’s geopolitical situation and the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, the possibility of a unit like the 2-108th being sent into harm’s way is increasing. The soldiers all know this, and their attitudes reflect it.
“It’s never the weapon, rather the warrior who wields it,” says Koob.