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NEWS | Sept. 5, 2019

A Steep Change: Illinois National Guardsmen Face New Terrain at Rising Thunder

By Spc. Shaylin Quaid

The Illinois Army National Guard’s 1844th Transportation Company, based in East St. Louis, Illinois, traveled more than 2,000 miles to attend Rising Thunder 2019 to support the Illinois Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered in Marion, Illinois, at the Yakima Training Center, Yakima, Wash.

The Illinois Army National Guard unit, part of the 108th Sustainment Brigade, is here to hone transportation and warrior skills alongside other National Guardsmen, active-Army counterparts, and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.

The truck company's primary duty is troop transport, which requires skilled and vigilant drivers who can navigate difficult terrain. The 1844th welcomed the opportunity to experience new roadways. Training in Yakima has allowed them to drive on elevated terrain typically unavailable in Illinois.

"This is a great opportunity to train in an environment with terrain and conditions similar to areas we could mobilize to," said Capt. Theodore Tebbe, from Breese, Illinois, commander for the 1844th. "We have a dual mission of transporting the Soldiers and equipment of the 2/130th Infantry in their joint exercise with the Japanese Forces. Additionally, [we're] training to react to the multitude of complex enemy attacks on our convoys."

While their friends and family kicked off the Labor Day weekend back home, the 1844th spent Aug. 30 receiving medical evacuation training from the active Army's 16th Combat Aviation Brigade at a nearby helipad.

"For those who have never been on a medevac helicopter, it showed them how important medevac is," said Sgt. Jessica Shelton, of Opdyke, Illinois, a squad leader with the 1844th. "And if they understand how the medevac works, then they'll know how to help the helicopter personnel before they're even on the scene."

Rising Thunder also provided the company with realistic improvised explosive device lanes. Opposing forces and training aids such as controlled explosions and simulated mortars helped the training scenarios feel more realistic, pushing troops to react seriously to enemy contact.

"Soldiers got to experience a realistic view of what they may encounter with an enemy on foreign soil," said Sgt. 1st Class Gary Cunningham, of Camden, Illinois, a platoon sergeant with the 1844th. "It helped them by showing them what to look for, and what to do and what not to do."

As a veteran of almost two decades, Cunningham brings to his platoon combat experience from before such hazards were commonplace.

"Training has changed so much since I first enlisted almost 19 years ago," said Cunningham. "We didn't train for IEDs. There is much more training available now, and we have more access to realistic training aids that are comparable to real-world missions."

Training like Rising Thunder helps the 1844th prepare for real-world missions and deployments by improving readiness and confidence. Last summer, the company traveled to the Joint Readiness Training Center in Ft. Polk, Louisiana, to support their long-term partners in the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Ever vigilant, the Guardsmen applied that training to the relief efforts following the Mississippi River's summer flooding mere weeks before Rising Thunder.

This year's annual training will continue to mold the 1844th's Soldiers into capable drivers and warriors, ready for their next mission.

"With the ever-changing warfront, we must continue to improve the capabilities of our Soldiers by providing them with realistic and constantly changing training environments," said Tebbe. "This has been the perfect opportunity to prepare our Soldiers for combat."