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Diversifying formations and increasing lethality with the airborne National Guard

By Sgt. David Vermilyea July 28, 2017

CINCU, Romania -- In the classic "The Art of War," author Sun Tzu said, "The skillful tactician may be likened to … a snake … Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be attacked by both head and tail."

Every military strives to be like the formidable adversary described by Sun Tzu. Recently, the United States Army employed a program tailored to train troops to strike multiple places at once.

In August 2016, the 173rd Airborne Brigade established formal ties with 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment of the Texas Army National Guard through the Associated Unit Pilot Program, also known as AUP, which pairs active and reserve units together to enhance readiness, cohesion and overall effectiveness.

"We supplement the brigade," said Sgt. 1st Class Justin Aguilar, a full-time Texas State Trooper and platoon sergeant in Alpha Company 1 Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment who served on Active Duty in 3rd Ranger Battalion for the first six years of his enlistment. "They are in need of an infantry Battalion and we are bringing them an infantry Battalion that looks very similar to their 1st Battalion and 2nd Battalion [503rd Infantry Regiment], and we are be able to integrate easily."

Sgt. Philip Tizzano is an infantry team leader in Charlie Company 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment from Rhode Island who is also as an aspiring lawyer in Suffolk Law School in Boston, Massachusetts.

"I joined right at the time it switched over to become an Airborne infantry unit in 2010," said Tizzano. "Seeing the unit evolve and change into something bigger was a great moment to be a part of."

The 173rd Airborne Brigade and the Guard unit share some striking similarities. For one, they both operate in a fragmented capacity. The 173rd Airborne Brigade has elements stationed in Vicenza, Italy and Grafenwoehr, Germany, while 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment consists of paratroopers in Texas, as well as a company in Rhode Island. The Guard unit makes up for the distance between themselves by synchronizing their training schedule and sustaining a continuous line of communication.

"We have to find alternate ways to communicate and get the same things done as an active Soldier would, just right down the hallway," said Aguilar. "When we're performing weapons qualification and zero, that's what they're doing in Rhode Island. When we're conducting squad live fires, they're doing that on their own terrain."

Adding to the parallels, both units are Airborne with motivated Paratroopers that volunteer to carry out more than what is asked of the typical soldier.

"We don't have a selection, like (Ranger) Regiment, but in the same sense you cut a lot of people out - guys that don't want to go to Airborne School, guys that don't make it out of Airborne School, and guys that get to the unit that don't perform well or can't jump out of the aircraft," said Aguilar. "So, you start to get the cream to rise to the top."

The 173rd Airborne Brigade prides itself on being a forward stationed high-readiness unit, available to deploy to U.S. African, European and Central Commands within 18 hours of notification. It sharpens the edge of America and NATO's lethal blade by conducting training ubiquitously throughout Europe. The unremitting code that the 173rd Airborne Brigade lives by now includes 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment through their participation in the largest annual exercise in Europe, Saber Guardian 17.

"It doesn't take a general to appreciate the gravity of this situation," said Tizzano. "The world's changing constantly and I'm on the forefront of it. We're here in Romania working with Romanians and other NATO allies."

The Battalion's mission in the exercise was to conduct a Joint Forcible Entry (JFE) operation by seizing an airfield in Turzii, Romania in conjunction with the Italian Folgore Brigade. Smooth coordination between foreign militaries served as a paramount component to the mission's success.

"My platoon was actually attached to the Folgore's Leone Company, so we got to conduct the team assault with the decisive operation of the objective," said Aguilar. "Once we took contact on the objective, we knew exactly what needed to happen. They still conduct fire and maneuver just like we do, so we were able to minimize the language barrier."

Overall, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment's convergence into the 173rd Airborne Brigade is a forward step in the direction toward becoming the lethal adversary described by Sun Tzu. Combining different components creates the counterpoint necessary to increase lethality, and in the grand scheme of things, that is what matters.

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