45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conducts annual training

By Sgt. Anthony Jones | 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team | July 29, 2020

NORMAN, Oklahoma — Soldiers of the Oklahoma National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) began their annual training earlier this week at armories and readiness centers across the state.

“As Guardsmen, we have a duty to be ready for when our state and nation call on us,” said Col. Colby Wyatt, commander, 45th IBCT. “As Guard leaders, we have a duty to protect our force and their families from unnecessary exposure to COVID-19. However, even as the pandemic persists, we still need to be ready to answer that call.”

Wyatt said Soldier welfare is always the Brigade’s focus, adding, “Our top priority is taking care of our Guardsmen and the families that support them. That’s why we are constantly adapting our training plans and developing countermeasures to COVID-19.”

The Thunderbirds were originally set to take on the eXportable Combat Training Capability (xCTC) program at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, in May and June. The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic forced the 45th to reschedule the brigade-wide field training exercise for later in the summer.

This gave Brigade planners and medical personnel time to develop a plan for how the nearly 3,000 Soldier-strong combat unit would take on the large-scale training exercise in a way that also protected the health of the force.

This planning included the introduction of cloth face masks, social distancing, sanitation procedures, defining health bubbles and outlining standard operating procedures for how to best keep Soldiers safe during the global pandemic.

Ultimately, the Brigade’s leadership, in coordination with leadership from the Oklahoma National Guard, chose to forego xCTC in favor of home station training with a focus on Soldier readiness.

The 45th IBCT is headquartered in Norman, Oklahoma, but the Brigade’s armories are located in communities across the state – particularly in Central and Eastern Oklahoma.

At one readiness center in Mustang, Oklahoma, Citizen-Soldiers with the 545th Brigade Engineer Battalion (BEB), 45th IBCT, donned facemasks and took time to focus on rifle marksmanship and Soldier skills.

Sgt. Trevor Schultz, a noncommissioned officer with Company A, 545th BEB and a resident of Perry, Oklahoma, led Soldiers through classes on individual movement techniques.

“This annual training is far different than any AT I’ve done before,” Schultz said. “Social distancing is the key here, but that’s not the only thing we’re doing to mitigate. We’ve divided up PT (physical training) times and even formations look different. We have everyone spread out no less than 6 feet apart.”

Schultz’s platoon, along with Soldiers from across the Brigade, is following the 45th’s standard operating procedure for training during COVID, which includes COVID screening along with temperature checks several times a day.

“We’re also aggressively enforcing wearing masks,” Shultz said. “Taking care of our Soldiers’ health isn’t just a job for noncommissioned officers, it’s our responsibility, and that means more than being just a job.”

Nearly 100 miles away at an armory in Holdenville, Oklahoma, field artillery Soldiers with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 160th Field Artillery Regiment, 45th IBCT are continuing to train on moving, emplacing, sighting and preparing their 105mm Howitzers for mock fire missions.

This training is essential and, due to the nature of how the Howitzers are manned, Soldiers cannot maintain social distancing and must operate in close proximity to one another.

Sgt. Justin Zacharias, a section chief from Oklahoma City, shouted commands to his section through his mask and commended them for continuing to perform their duties while taking steps to fight the spread of coronavirus.

“We’re all volunteers here,” Zacharias said. “These Soldiers are doing a great job adapting to changing crews and working with the masks."

Spc. Joseph Shells, an Oklahoma City resident and one of the Company A, 545th BEB Soldiers who went through Shultz’s movement class, is taking part in his first National Guard annual training after serving four years on active duty.

Shells said National Guard leaders are doing a lot to make sure the Soldiers are taken care of.

“They are enforcing social distancing and mask wearing,” Shells said. “We’re sanitizing things after we use them, and our NCOs have designated Soldiers to carry sanitizer spray so we always have some when we need it. Our leadership is doing a great job making sure we’re taking COVID serious.”

The 45th’s annual training cycle for this year will conclude around August 15. Plans for next year’s ATs are already underway as the Brigade is scheduled to travel to Fort Irwin, California to participate in exercises at the National Training Center (NTC).
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