FORT RILEY, Kan. – More than 1,000 citizen-soldiers with Task Force Tomahawk recently completed more than a month of training at Fort Riley, Kansas in preparation for an overseas deployment to Africa.
TF Tomahawk is made up of soldiers from multiple units from Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team including two companies from the Brigade’s multi-state battalion — the 2nd Battalion, 134th Infantry Regiment — from the Nebraska Army National Guard and the Indiana Army National Guard.
Soldiers with TF Tomahawk trained on individual and platoon level warrior tasks, including various weapons ranges and squad patrol lanes focusing on individual troop and squad movement. In addition to individual and platoon-level training, soldiers received medical, cultural awareness, equipment and mission-specific training before heading overseas.
Proficiency in these skills is critical for the soldiers who are deploying to provide security support in operations across multiple East African countries.
“The pre-mobilization training allows us to take about 12-18 months of training that the active-duty force does regularly because it’s their full-time job, and we compress it into a short time span of about six weeks,” said Command Sgt. Maj. John Workman, the command sergeant major for TF Tomahawk and resident of Glenpool, Oklahoma. “We’re basically turning ourselves into an active-duty Army battalion in about six weeks of training.”
While pre-mobilization training for National Guard units is accelerated, the soldiers receive comprehensive and in-depth training in each of their respective fields.
“For the Forward Support Company, we’ve been able to slow down our training,” said Chickasha, Oklahoma native, Capt. Katelyn Hartshorn, commander, Hotel Company, 700th Brigade Support Battalion. “I know for my maintenance section, they’ve been able to get quality, in-depth training that makes them feel more confident and proficient in their field.”
In addition to planned training exercises, pre-mobilization training allows soldiers to face and overcome challenges they may be presented with during their overseas deployment, including different environments and climates.
“Training in a diverse and austere environment is one of the requirements for being in the military,” Hartshorn said. “It prepares soldiers to be able to push their limits and know what they can do and know what their equipment can do. So being able to train in the more extreme environments gives them more confidence in themselves and their equipment.”
For Staff Sgt. John Appleton, a maintenance platoon sergeant with Hotel Company and Collinsville, Oklahoma native, training at Fort Riley rather than a more familiar training base like the OKNG’s Camp Gruber in Eastern Oklahoma, forces soldiers to adapt to new locations, climates and step outside of their comfort zones.
“It develops resilience,” Appleton said. “Weather changes day to day. It’s part of the Army and you’ve got to ‘Army on’ and continue the exercise. Your soldiers can understand that no matter what happens, they can still move forward.”
Workman said pre-mobilization training can be tough, but the soldiers of TF Tomahawk have maintained a high level of morale and motivation, adding the Soldiers are eager to serve their community and nation.
“Most soldiers are very excited,” Workman said. “There’s a lot of unknowns and that’s part of the excitement. They want to serve, they want to do their state and nation very proud. They’re very anxious to do that and get started.”
Among the troops preparing to go overseas, there are both seasoned soldiers with multiple deployments under their belts, and newer Soldiers who are mobilizing for the first time. In addition to comprehensive training, a key component of mission success is collaboration and teamwork.
“The senior enlisted role is to mentor and guide the junior enlisted who haven’t gone through these experiences,” Appleton said. “So we’ve been coaching and trying to help them understand that yes, this may be a scary event that we’re about to go do, but it’s something they can look forward to, that they’re fully capable to complete the mission.”
TF Tomahawk will move onto Fort Bliss, Texas for post-mobilization training before heading overseas, and will return home early 2024.
“I just want to say that the leadership of the Oklahoma National Guard and the Task Force are very thankful to the citizens of Oklahoma for providing us their very best,” Workman said. “We’re going to take good care of them and they’re going to do a great job representing our state and nation.”