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NEWS | Feb. 9, 2024

120th Infantry Brigade Soldiers partner with Army Reserve transportation company ahead of its deployment to Poland

FORT CAVAZOS, Texas - For some members of the 656th Transportation Company, the unit’s upcoming deployment to Poland is their first trip outside the United States. For others, it represents a return to the central European country. But in all cases, Soldiers with First Army Division West’s 120th Infantry Brigade are helping to ensure they succeed. The 120th provided Observer Coach/Trainer support to the U.S. Army Reserve’s Collective Training Exercise, held here in late January and early February.

Master Sgt. David Branning, 120th Infantry Brigade, served as an Exercise Design Team member, and he described the CTE as the culmination of a nearly year-long partnership between the two units.

“We go about nine months backwards when they come here to mobilize and stay informed of their mission because sometimes it can change. We look at the training objectives and we put together a storyline that addresses them. It is relevant and realistic to the mission they are going to do,” Branning explained.

By the time it gets to the CTE, the focus is on putting the finishing touches on a successful pre-deployment process.

“The goal is to get them the repetitions and the sets to meet the objectives of the commander that is relevant to the mission overseas, so when they go they don’t feel like they’re drinking from a fire hose,” Branning said. “They are trained and proficient in their mission-essential tasks.”

While much of the unit had little experience, Branning noted that’s not necessarily a bad thing: “They’re motivated. They have junior Soldiers that have never deployed and there are some junior NCOs. They’re hungry to learn everything. They’re listening and they’re learning the doctrine. It’s really motivated me because they’re very motivated.”

Sgt. 1st Class Alberto Vicens, a 120th Infantry Brigade OC/T, echoed what Branning said about the importance of learning doctrine.

“We make sure they are drilled in doctrine and policies. There’s a lot of planning for these missions when these units come, and a lot of communication,” he said. “As soon as the unit gets notification to mobilize, we start working with them. We stay in touch and keep aware of their training plan, and know what they need before they get here. Once they get here, it’s on us to get them validated and out the door.”

To help facilitate that, the unit’s leadership ensures that the Soldiers have the tools and training necessary to be prepared.

“We specialize in transferring bulk commodities to fuel the war fighter,” said 656th company commander, 1st Lt. Nicholas McKiernan. For the CTE, we’re practicing convoys and are on the road conducting missions, and are getting drilled in the fundamentals. We are always going back to the basics. You can never have enough repetition, PMCS on your vehicle, run through your checklist, design your convoys. And safety is always number one, we want to this as safely and as effectively as possible. As long as our unit can do it by the book and safely, then it’s a successful exercise.”

All the while, the 120th is there in partnership with the 656th .

“We’ve had issues to work through and they’re here to help us adapt and overcome,” McKiernan said. “They’ve been more than friendly in helping us achieve our goals. We’ve been working with them since we were notified on the deployment last January. Their primary job is to make sure we can come here, get validated, get to country, do our mission successfully, and they plan it to make sure that is achieved. They designed an exercise to best suit our mission. We are in communication throughout the process.”

The training has included getting reacquainted with some foundational capabilities.

“Some of these vehicles we haven’t worked with since AIT, so this is a refresher,” said Sgt. Brandon Hubbard, a 656th supply specialist. “But we’re having a great time out here and this will be my first deployment. I was a little scared at first but the preparation that we have done has alleviated that a lot. The 120th has opened up to us and we’ve developed strong rapport and they’ve given us some great refresher training.”

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Cawley, 656th first sergeant, agrees that reviving some skill sets has been a huge plus.

“We want to get used to the bulk to bulk transfer because 88Ms don’t normally deal with fuel in this way,” he said. “Getting that refresher training has been valuable. “We’ve had challenges and the 120th has been good at setting up a training regimen that allowed us to work through them and become efficient. They are knowledgeable on what we need to do and which training sets will get our formation to where we want it to be.”

For Spc. Merey Myrzakhan, a transportation operator who went to college in Poland, the training has left her confident that her return trip will be a successful deployment.

“We had our finances and medical issues taken care of, and all the gear that we will need. Now we are doing driver simulation and we got some hands on training as well and that practice has helped reenforce our skill set,” she said. “They OC/Ts have been  so great to work with. They work it through with us when we have a challenge and help us to find the right way to work toward solutions. They have treated us with respect and been entirely professional. I’m ready to deploy now.”

One of those OC/Ts, Sgt. 1st Class Lakrisha Mosley, returned the words of praise.

“They’ve improved throughout the deployment cycle. They have a lot of junior Soldiers and just-promoted sergeants and it’s their first time deploying, so there’s a learning curve and they’ve been very receptive and eager,” she said. “We work with them as they go through their training. We make sure they can successfully deploy and complete the mission.”

And now the 656th is ready to do just that.