Author’s note: this is the third in a multi-part series following the 2-108th Cavalry Squadron of the Louisiana National Guard as the unit prepares for its rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), at Fort Polk, LA. Each piece will tell a different part of the unit’s story, and give readers a glimpse into how National Guard units prepare for war. Read Part II here.

The limited training time, the leadership decisions and sacrifices, and the drill weekend focuses are all felt by all unit members.  They are facts not lost on the majority of the soldiers, many of which are already preparing for JRTC.

“On my off days, I like to go for a walk or a run wearing my gear,” explains Private David Willis. Although his occupational specialty is Human Resources, PV2 Willis is assigned as Major Luebbert’s driver. This means during JRTC, Willis is going to be extremely busy and constantly on the move. The XO will depend on Willis to get him around the battlefield, during the day or at night, and possibly under enemy fire.

Private David Willis, 2-108th Cavalry Squadron

Driver’s training is crucial to the Squadron’s mission. Two of the Squadron’s Troops are “mounted” and fight from their HMMWVs, which are equipped with a variety of weapons and sensors. The HMMWV is the 2-108th’s modern equivalent of the horses used by Cavalrymen 150 years ago. There is also a “dismounted” Troop, which will move around the battlefield on foot. The dismounted Troop has additional capabilities that the mounted Troops do not, including a sniper section and inflatable boats.

“As drivers, we’re training to get qualified for night driving with our night optical devices (NODs), but we’ve also got to train other soldiers to drive in case we get hit,” says Willis.

It’s a situation that is entirely possible at JRTC. Each soldier is equipped with what is essentially a laser tag vest, which registers if the soldier is “hit” by simulated enemy fire. If so, a soldier must be treated by the medics and evacuated to a rear area. Once there, they are held for 24 hours before being returned to their unit. That means it’s entirely possible Willis would need to use a backup driver sometime during the exercise.

At the end of the weekend, the Squadron has completed a good majority of the paperwork that Army units are required to complete. In the coming months, the soldiers of the 2-108th will have to qualify with their individual weapons, practice engaging targets from their HMMWVs using a variety of heavy weapons, and hone their reconnaissance skills before their rotation to JRTC. The unit will practice driving and fighting in formation, and will ensure that soldiers are getting lessons on field craft.