Wild Horses and Alligators: Illinois Soldiers Return From Simulated War in Louisiana

Thousands went through intensive realistic training at premiere Army training center

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Secretary of the Army, Dr. Mark T. Esper discusses training with Col. Mark Alessia of Sherman, the Commander of the Illinois Army National Guard’s 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team at Fort Polk.

SPRINGFIELD, IL (08/31/2018) (readMedia)-- More than 4,000 Soldiers from all over the state returned home this past week from a month of hot and intensive training in the swampy woods of Louisiana, where they exceeded expectations against a tough and capable 'enemy.'

The Illinois National Guard's 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) Soldiers and two dozen additional enabler units from around the United States, including East St. Louis' 1844th Transportation Company and Machesney Park's 135th Chemical Company, participated in the training exercise at one of the U.S. Army's premiere combat training sites – The Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana. The exercise lasted from mid-July to the third full week of August. Although many Soldiers experienced the local fauna including alligators, hundreds of wild horses and millions of winged insects, they didn't have the opportunity to sightsee.

"It was tough and it was meant to be tough, but the unit exceeded expectations," said Col. Mark Alessia of Sherman, Illinois, the Commander of the 33 IBCT. "We learned a lot and we met the challenges before us. The exercise showed us exactly what we need to do going forward to be at maximum readiness. I am much more confident in our ability to defend the nation after undergoing this training."

JRTC pitted the 33rd against a tough and capable "opposing force." The scenario exercised the 33rd's ability to synchronize and employ ground infantry troops, artillery, aviation, armor, engineer, and logistics to sustain offensive and defensive operations over the training period. The exercise is considered vital to the U.S. defense and drew several national leaders including Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper.

Dr. Esper said JRTC is an opportunity to validate the 33rd's training as well as provide feedback to the Army's top brass for the development of new doctrine, and the tactics, techniques and procedures Soldiers will use in future fights.

"There is a reason why the JRTC and the National Training Center are last stops for any unit before they go abroad on a deployment. We know these are the places where they get the most demanding, the most rigorous, the best training so that they are ready to deploy," Esper said.

The 33rd is expected to participate in a series of training exercises with the Pacific Rim nations in 2019. The 33rd's JRTC rotation required months of planning and weeks of moving more than 1,000 vehicles and other pieces of military equipment to and from Fort Polk. This showed the logistical readiness of the brigade and its ability to rapidly deploy.

"I'm very proud of all of our Soldiers. I know each one of them learned something and ultimately came home knowing how to perform their military jobs better than before this exercise. The key now is continuing to get better and teaching the things we learned," Alessia said.

The 33rd includes units based in Aurora, Bartonville, Bloomington-Normal, Champaign, Decatur, Dixon, Effingham, Elgin, Galva, Joliet, Litchfield, Kewanee, Marion, Matoon, Mount Vernon, Peoria, Pontiac, Springfield, Sycamore, Urbana, West Frankfort, and Woodstock Illinois.

Broadcast quality video footage of 33rd IBCT Soldiers training at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana is available at https://www.dvidshub.net/video/616884/33rd-ibct. Media wishing to interview local Soldiers about their Joint Readiness Training Center training must contact the Illinois National Guard public affairs office at 217-761-3569 or ng.il.ilarng.list.staff-pao@mail.mil.