By Army Sgt. Sheila Holifield
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 2, 2008 - About 4,000 soldiers representing the National Guard's only Stryker brigade will deploy to Iraq in early 2009. The Pennsylvania National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team has been transforming to a Stryker brigade since October 2004.
After they were alerted of their pending deployment in October 2007, the brigade's soldiers have been training at the Joint Forces Training Center here. They will continue on to Fort Polk, La., for additional training before they make their way to Iraq.
"The training we have done at Camp Shelby has been a good building block allowing us to expand upon what we were previously doing," Army Col. Mike Ferraro, commander of the 56th SBCT, said.
Though more than half of the soldiers deploying with the SBCT have prior deployment experience, Ferraro said, training still is vital to the mission.
"Times have changed and continue to change as we prepare to deploy, so we must train on those current tactics, techniques and procedures in order to be successful," he said.
Army Capt. Joseph Ruotolo, commander of Pennsylvania's Battery B, 1st Battalion, 109th Field Artillery, agreed.
"This war is different from any other," he said, "and as a result, a lot of the operations and success of this war is driven by the noncommissioned officers and junior leaders. Because that responsibility is now pushed down to the junior leaders, this war is all about being a good basic soldier."
In addition to mastering basic skills such as using a radio, knowing their weapon, navigating over land, reading a map and performing preventive maintenance checks and services, he said, soldiers also need to bring the right frame of mind to the fight.
"Being a good basic soldier and a good basic human being with honorable moral and ethical character are the ingredients to the success of this war we are fighting," Ruotolo said.
In addition to training at Joint Forces Training Center here, the SBCT has worked with the 2nd Infantry Division's 4th Brigade out of Fort Lewis, Wash. -- an active-duty Stryker brigade -- to prepare for their mission.
The active-duty soldiers taught the guardsmen current tactics, techniques and procedures being used in Iraq. They also conducted Stryker-specific training and shared what they learned from being overseas, Ferraro said.
"Having them here to work with us at Camp Shelby has been one of the biggest benefits we have been able to get," Ferraro said. "The partnership has benefited us immensely."
Ferraro noted that the active-duty soldiers have been thoroughly professional in helping the guardsmen prepare for their deployment.
"They are not looking at the patch and the fact that we are National Guard," he said. "We are all soldiers and all out to do the same thing in the Stryker community."
National Guard soldiers often are able to lend civilian-acquired skills to an operational environment, and Ferraro said this deployment will be no different.
"If we are working with Iraq police forces, we can pull from all of our police officers; same thing if we are working with the local community to build schools and curriculum, we can pull from all the teachers in our brigade," he said.
Ferraro said his soldiers are ready for what lies ahead.
"My soldiers want to show everyone that they made the right decision by putting the 56th SBCT in the Pennsylvania National Guard," he said. "We are making history, and we wouldn't trade our position for anything in the world."
(Army Sgt. Sheila Holifield serves with 1st Army Division East's 177th Armored Brigade Public Affairs Office.)