CAMP SHELBY, Miss. —
Once a year, while most people are thinking of Thanksgiving dinner and Black Friday sales, the recruits of Mississippi Army National Guard Company B, Recruiting and Retention Battalion, are charging through the three-day Spartan Forge.
"This is all based in our three-tenant mission for RSP [Recruit Sustainment Program], which is to have our recruits mentally prepared, physically prepared, and administratively prepared," said Maj. Dustin Guadagno, commander, Company B. "So the first two—mentally and physically prepared—is what this weekend is all about."
During Spartan Forge 2019, recruits are bused from their home stations to Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center. The first people they meet are the drill sergeants. Encouraged to leave the bus quickly, they are issued any relevant gear needed for the coming days. On Saturday, they are shown the dining facility procedures at breakfast, loaded into a CH-47 Chinook helicopter and flown to the main event.
"[Squad Training Exercises] are the perfect vehicle to place people out of their comfort zone and to build viable leadership skills inside these recruits," said Guadagno.
The concept for the first Squad Training Exercise, or STX, scenario is a simple reconnaissance mission leading to an assault on the target. Airsoft rifles are used by the recruits and trainers to simulate combat.
"The reason why we use airsoft rifles, and not just simple dummy weapons, is we want to make this feel as realistic as possible for them so they can actually feel that they are being shot at and they also deliver that same ammunition and fire back at an opposing force," he said.
Each lane has Mississippi Army National Guard members of the battalion playing roles from aggressors to civilian bystanders. The recruits have to determine who is a threat.
The second of four STX lanes introduces the trainees to improvised explosive devices, or IED. Recruiters teamed with a counter IED team at Camp Shelby to confront the future Soldiers with tripwire and command explosive simulations while conducting a presence patrol.
In the third lane, trainees are presented with a mission to move into a village and locate a weapons cache.
"They will encounter civilians on the battlefield and will have to use them to help identify quickly where the weapon cache is. Some of those civilians may actually end up turning hostile," Guadagno said.
The focus on the final lane is personnel recovery.
"The scenario is a pilot has crashed, and they have to recover that downed pilot," Guadagno said. "After recovering the pilot, they must evaluate his condition, call in the nine-line MEDEVAC, and get the injured pilot to the extraction point."
Guadagno said he hopes exposure to scenarios like those encountered during Spartan Forge will motivate the trainees to do more to prepare for the rigors of basic training. Spartan Forge provides a basic understanding of the types of real-world missions Soldiers face and to dispel their video game perceptions.
"A lot of these trainees have never done anything outside of playing with cell phones," said Sgt. 1st Class Ashley Gilbert, a drill sergeant at Company B. "This event as a whole will give them an overall idea of what working as a team looks like."
Spartan Forge will help the recruits develop tactical skills and give them a much needed wake-up call for what is in store at those training sites.
Just like homework for school, this training is a way to practice, according to Recruit Michelle Campbell, a senior at Biloxi High School. She hopes to take what she learned from the exercise and apply it to give her an edge over other recruits during basic and advanced training.
"I've never done anything like this before in a regular drill," Recruit Kayla Wells said. "You mainly just run, work out and learn the basics. But this is real life, and this is something you could use on the battlefield one day."