Thousands of troops train in the region during Exercise Northern Strike 2018
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A multi-state and nation military mission wrapped up at Camp Grayling on Saturday, training soldiers to fight as they would on the battlefield.
Exercise Northern Strike, which ran from Aug. 4 to Aug. 18, included thousands of soldiers and members from each branch of the service.
The mission was to provide military units with the assets necessary to support training which will provide troops with the skills and abilities needed to operate and survive in a hostile environment.
At Range 40, located near Waters, artillery and infantry units on the ground trained to take out an enemy anti-aircraft unit. The training was integrated with airplanes firing munitions and conducting flyovers.
“In a real world tomorrow, that’s real metal in the air and those are real guns that are firing those 30-millimeter shells,” said Col. Andrew Roberts, the director of state plans and policy for the Michigan National Guard based out of the joint force headquarters in Lansing.
Small arms, mortars, artillery, and aerial munition firing took place at the Camp Grayling Range Complex and near Lake Huron. Simulated live-fire scenarios took place at the Carmeuse Calcite Quarry in Rogers City, along some coastal waters on Lake Huron, and Mullet Lake in Cheboygan County.
Elsewhere, training took place at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center and the former site of the K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in the Upper Peninsula.
On Lake Margrethe, U.S. Marines conducted amphibious assaults, dive operations, underwater navigation, and helocasting, an airborne technique used by small unit special operations forces to insert into a military area of operations.
Members of the Michigan National Guard’s 126th Infantry, based out of Dowagiac, the Detroit area, and Wyoming, took part in four-day rotations as part of the exercise. The soldiers and their equipment were flown in from downstate on a C-130 to the Grayling Army Airfield. Following a day of planning, the soldiers were in the field training with artillery units and supported by air combat maneuvers.
“We’re bringing this together, so our soldiers are not seeing this for the first time when they are deployed,” said Lt. Col. Ravi Wagh, the battalion commander of the 3rd battalion 126th Infantry.
Troops in the field received supplies and provisions through helicopter air drops.
A medical hospital was based off of County Road 612 west of Lovells. It was staffed by members of the Iowa National Guard.
Soldiers were treated for aliments which ranged from sprained ankles up to a soldier who broke his back and was air flighted to a hospital.
One soldier was electrocuted during his training.
“We were able to put him in our patient hold, get him the proper testing, and return him to duty,” said Maj. Christian Kilpatrick, a commander for the Iowa Army National Guard.
Most members of the unit work at hospitals.
“A lot of my people actually do this job in the civilian world, so when we roll into a situation like this, we’re providing real care and it’s just another day for them, but out in the field,” Kilpatrick said.
Dentists from different branches of the armed forces were attached to the hospital.
Cpt. James Morris, a member of the U.S. Navy from Danville, California, said one soldier was walking around at night, stepped in a hole and his weapon flew up, breaking his tooth.
“He came in here the next day, we rebuilt his tooth, he’s smiling happily and back to duty,” Morris said.
Behavioral health specialists were also on hand to help soldiers dealing with stress, sleep issues, and issues from being away from home.
Exercise Northern Strike started eight years ago with 500 troops. This year, over 5,000 soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors were in northern Michigan for the training.
“We are out there getting after it,” said Maj. Gen. Gregory J. Vadnais, the adjutant general and the director of Military and Veterans Affairs for Michigan.
The Michigan National Guard has deployed 24,000 soldiers to fight the war on terrorism, and has lost 21 of those troops to fatalities.
Armed service members from Ohio, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, and Puerto Rico took part in the training.
Partner countries also taking part in the exercise included Hungary, Latvia, Germany, Poland, Great Britain, Estonia, Jordan, and Lithuania.
This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Michigan National Guard’s partnership with the National Armed Forces of Latvia through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program.
“Michigan’s partnership with the National Armed Forces of Latvia was the first relationship formed under the State Partnership Program in 1993,” said Lt. Col. Dustin Budd, the bilateral affairs officer for the Michigan National Guard in Latvia. “Since then, the State Partnership Program has grown in size and scope over the decades and pays dividends beyond what anyone could have originally expected. Exercise Northern Strike is a key event in this partnership because it puts American and Latvian service members side-by-side in realistic management scenarios that test their skills, trust, and mutual experience they’ve built over time.”
Equipment for the exercise was brought in on 192 rail cars, which were unloaded over a four-day period at a rail spur located at the Grayling Army Airfield.
Other equipment is stored at the Camp Grayling Maneuver Equipment Area Training Site (MATES), which cuts down taxpayer expense to ship the equipment and gives soldiers the vital time to spend on training.
“They have the ability to get here, go out in the field, and train, and shoot,” said Brig. Gen. Michael A. Stone, the assistant adjutant general for installations for Michigan Army National Guard and commander for domestic response situations.
Two new vehicles were showcased at MATES for Exercise Northern Strike. The Panther is a vehicle used to transport Explosive Ordinance Disposal troops and is built to withstand a strike from a rocket propelled grenade.
The Mine Ambush Protection Vehicle is built with high ground clearance and a protective hull which is designed to deflect the blast from an improvised explosive device away from the soldiers. The vehicle features special padding and seating to protect the soldiers.
“The seats actually absorb the shock so it doesn’t do as much damage to a soldier’s body,” said Sgt. Geoff Boylan, a technician at MATES.
A weapons system can be mounted on top of the vehicle, and operated with a remote control so soldiers are not exposed to enemy fire.
“There’s a video system that can scan left and right, and they can pull the trigger from inside vehicle,” Boylan said.
Vadnais was pleased with the outcome of Exercise Northern Strike.
“There has been a lot of learning and we keep relearning some of the old lessons, but the complexity of this training is what this is all about,” he said.
Vadnais said the training would stay at numbers between 6,000 and 8,000 soldiers, but would grow in complexity.
Military leaders envision Exercise Northern Strike being held in different seasons of the year, especially during winter months.
“I think that’s where the future is going to be and I can see doing it in the winter in the future at some point,” Vadnais said. “We need to be able fight in winter conditions, so this is a great opportunity to come up here and put a brigade level force on the ground.”
Vadnais said military officials are grateful for the support from the communities where the troops were training.
“I know it’s loud and it’s dirty, but that is America’s Army, Marine Coprs, Navy and Air Force out there training to be prepared to defend this great country,” he said.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, training has been integrated between artillery and infantry units with air support to provide the best training and so they can communicate clearly with one another so troops are ready to go when ordered to deploy.
The Michigan National Guard completes the training along with taking care of its dual mission to serve the state. Earlier this year, the Michigan National Guard helped residents in the Upper Peninsula when heavy flooding occurred.
Two years ago, soliders distributed water and water filters to Flint residents.
In April 2014, Flint stopped using treated water from the Detroit water system and began treating water from the Flint River as the city’s drinking water source. The city failed to treat the water to make it less corrosive, damaging the city’s water infrastructure and causing lead to leach into the water system.
“As devastating as that was, when they saw the uniform, they had hope,” Vadnais said regarding the reaction the soldiers received from Flint residents.