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NEWS | Sept. 5, 2019

Illinois National Guardsmen break barriers as team sport at Rising Thunder

By Sgt. Camacho Roberts, 211th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Soldiers from the Illinois Army National Guard's 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team engaged day two of Rising Thunder 19 with room-clearing drills at the Yakima Training Center shoothouse, Sept. 1.

The drills featured teams from throughout the brigade's 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment and 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment, with an attached element from the 766th Brigade Engineer Battalion.

"We practice in stages," explained Sgt. Dylan Teckenbrock, of Marion, Illinois, an infantryman with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 130th Inf. Reg. "We start with a dry run outside, then blanks, and finally the live fire inside the shoothouse with our engineers." 

Teckenbrock and his team completed the entire sequence the previous day, but continued to practice drills in the "glass house," an outside space bordered by white engineering tape to simulate the inside of a building.

"Thirty-three engineers came to this exercise from our company," said Sgt. Benjamin Pajeau, of Highland, Illinois, a combat engineer, 11-year veteran, and squad leader with Company A, 766th BEB. "We get to breach once or twice a year, and rarely get to integrate with infantry. This exercise gives us a great opportunity to perfect our breaching skills on doors, and for our Soldiers to train with others." 

Pajeau said he also got to learn some of the things the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force have perfected in breaching. 

"I got to talk to some of their staff that have worked with explosives in the past, and got to see how they do their operations compared to how we do ours," said Pajeau.

While in the shoothouse, the room-clearing teams are given safety guidance, a walk-through of what to expect, as well as coaching. Sgt. 1st Class Kerry Gabbard, of Salem, Illinois, and Sgt. 1st Class Jason Drake, of Charleston, Illinois, both infantrymen from Company D, 2-130th Inf. Reg., served as range safety officers for the first and second half of the day's training, respectively.

"We change up the configuration inside the shoothouse for each team's sequence to keep them on their toes," said Gabbard.

This is done to keep each team vigilant, flexible, and efficient during training. 

Sgt. Omar Alston, an infantryman with Company C, 1st Battalion, 178th Inf. Reg., brought a special perspective in leading his team through the drills. The Rockford, Illinois, native said he enjoys the dynamic of both learning and teaching, not only as a squad leader, but also as a family man. 

"I have a son and fiance," said Alston. "They are my motivation to keep doing what I do. It's motivating to me because I love learning as well as teaching and have adapted that into my lifestyle.

Alston said his interaction with the Japanese has been fun throughout the exercise. Learning to communicate with them through technology has helped bridge the language gap.

"We would download Google translator, speak into the app what we wanted to say to them, they would reply with their Japanese and the phone translated back," said Alston. "We learned a lot about their food, culture, and where they live in Japan. One of the soldiers actually drew out Japan in the dirt, showed me where he was born, and where he had to travel to go work for the military." 

Whether it's through training or technology, the partnership continues to develop. The dynamic of Rising Thunder as a team sport stays true. Each participant has an important role to play, not just for the success of this exercise, but also future endeavors on the battlefield.

"It's important because that's our job," said Alston. "We have to make sure we train how we perform and if we don't train the correct way, we're not going to know what to do in the real world."