Arkansas National Guard

Units of the Arkansas National Guard arrive at Fort Polk, LA, for their annual summer training exercise.

FORT POLK, LA – Soldiers and airmen from the Arkansas National Guard and 18 other states have converged at the U.S. Army’s Joint Readiness Training Center here to test their skills in one of the Army’s toughest and most realistic peacetime training events.

The exercise, which began on July 17, tests the abilities of over 4,500 citizen soldiers in “Operation Atropian Ascent,” a training scenario where the Arkansas National Guard’s 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, also known as the Bowie Team, will fight against a well-equipped enemy force to stabilize the fictitious country of Atropia.

The Guardsmen have been at Fort Polk since the beginning of July receiving equipment, planning, rehearsing and preparing for their rotation in ”the box,” a remote area of the post where the exercise will take place.

“I can’t be more proud of our all-volunteer formation of soldiers and airmen," said Col. Jonathan Stubbs, the 39th Infantry Brigade Commander.

“These outstanding men and women, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, Arkansans and soldiers from 18 other states, are putting in long hours in a challenging training environment to ensure they’re prepared to answer our nation’s call,” said Stubbs. “I consider it an honor and privilege to lead this brigade.”

JRTC is considered to be one of the most challenging environments a military unit will ever experience. Stubbs calls JRTC “our Super Bowl.”

Atropian Ascent will test the brigade’s ability to shoot, move and communicate against a world-class ”enemy” of active duty forces who are highly experienced and fight against other units who rotate through JRTC. The box is their home turf.

“This is as close to combat as we can get in training,” said Brig. Gen. Brad Cox, the Arkansas National Guard’s Land Component Commander, who is also serving as the senior mentor for the rotation.

The National Guard is bringing together aviation, transportation, communications and other supporting units from across the nation. Soldiers from as far away as Guam and Puerto Rico are also incorporated into the 39th’s formation.

“Our commanders cannot integrate and fight like this anywhere else” Cox said. “JRTC brings a level of large-scale combat we cannot replicate in Arkansas. We can only get that here.”

COVID-19 has added a level of complexity the 39th has had to manage. The brigade implemented a COVID-19 mitigation plan, which included testing at Fort Chaffee, AR followed by additional tests once soldiers arrived in Louisiana. The 39th continues to protect the overall force by actively testing symptomatic soldiers and getting them medical treatment.

Following the plan, which has met the Department of Defense and Fort Polk’s guidelines, has resulted in less than 2.3% of the total training task force being quarantined or isolated. “There are over 4,500 soldiers as part of this task force,” said

Lt. Col. Nathan Perry, the 39th’s Public Affairs Officer, “The COVID-19 numbers are in line with what Fort Polk has seen with recent JRTC rotations. All safety measures, including that of COVID have been executed as planned and working appropriately.” Currently, 51 soldiers have tested positive and through contact tracing an additional 54 are on quarantine. Those that can return to their units are able to after they tested and are evaluated by a physician.

As the 39th is in the box, they are observed and coached by hundreds of experienced observer controller/trainers. Cox said the OC/T’s are experienced and they coach commanders, staffs and soldiers to be more effective. They also aid the commander in controlling operations by enforcing safety at every level.

“JRTC is going to be hard,” explains Cox. “You are going to learn more in the next three weeks than you have learned in the past three years.”

The Bowie Team’s lessons in the box will last until the end of July then the 39th will pack up and begin the trip back to their homes across the country. Part of that process will include additional COVID-19 testing as protocol dictates.

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