Alaska Army National Guard recruits find strength in numbers during initial training

Dimitri Larson of Bethel receives his pin during graduation from the 15-week Infantry School at Ft. Benning, GA. photo by 2nd Lt. Marisa Lindsay

by 2nd Lt. Marisa Lindsay

FORT BENNING, Georgia — Ten Alaskans earned their place within the ranks of the Alaska Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment, as infantry Soldiers after graduating from the grueling 15-week Infantry Course at the historical National Infantry Museum here today (April 20th, 2018).
The 10 Soldiers completed their training together, as the AKARNG’s newest Soldiers were able to accomplish their basic military and infantry training alongside one another in Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment. Unlike active-duty Army, Army National Guard trainees are placed in the same company together with others from their state.
“If a state ships a group of National Guard trainees on or about the same day to one-station unit training, which is where they combine basic military training and advanced individual infantry training, then we will place them in the same company,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Larson, the Army National Guard Liaison who is embedded with five training battalions on Ft. Benning and charged with supporting the National Guard Soldiers.
Although the Soldiers are from differing areas throughout Alaska, they quickly became acquainted with one another during the Recruit Sustainment Program, held on Joint-Base Elmendorf Richardson, Alaska, and operated by the 207th Recruiting and Retention Battalion.
This program prepares new recruits for basic training by introducing them to a military environment once a month over drill weekends.
Before shipping to Fort Benning in early January, these graduates trained in RSP together for at least three months.
“Even though we were spread out in four platoons, when we formed up every day we would see each other so I never felt like I was there alone,” explained Pvt. Michael Jolly, from Anchorage, while the other Soldiers nodded in agreement. “It’s comforting to know that people are here that you travelled with and knowing that no matter how stressful certain times were, we were in it together.”
Seated in an informal semi-circle using chairs in a small classroom within the company, between jokes and stories of their drill sergeants, each one followed by laughter, the recruits explained that their training was more difficult than they had anticipated, but also said that they wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
“As soon as I got off the bus, I knew it was about to get real,” laughed Jolly, followed by chuckles and nods from the other Soldiers. “The difficulty is there for a reason though — we pushed our bodies to their limits and learned that we could drive through any mental barrier that we would have normally placed on ourselves.”
Larson, who has been a part of many training classes, said that the support derived from National Guard recruits and those from their state whom they’re training with helps the Soldier. However, that it’s ultimately up to the individual to find the confidence in themselves to make it to graduation.
“The kind of people who succeed are the ones that aren’t afraid to push themselves over the mental line that exists inside their minds,” described Larson, who also mentioned that more than 5,000 National Guard Soldiers conduct their initial training at Ft. Benning every year. “It is important to be able to defeat the demons of doubt that plant themselves in our minds, and these Soldiers have proven to themselves that it can be done.”
Although they were away from loved ones, the Soldiers explained that the challenges faced during their 15-week journey provided an irreplaceable, familial brotherhood between them and the rest of the recruits within their platoons.
“Something I began to understand here is that someone doesn’t need to be related to you in order to be your family,” expressed Pvt. Steven Van Acker, from Fairbanks. “Here, we’ve learned that other Soldiers, the people to your right and left, and even the drill sergeants, are your family—I know that I would do anything for them and that they would do anything for me.”
The Soldiers earned their infantry cords alongside 153 other infantrymen during a turning blue ceremony on April 19th, signifying their official acceptance as U.S. Army infantry Soldiers.
“Nothing great in life comes easy,” said Jolly, when asked if he had any words of wisdom for future AKARNG Soldiers. “You just have to rise up to the challenge just like we did and just like others did that came before us … but I promise, it is so worth it.”
2nd Lt. Marisa Lindsay works at Recruiting and Retention, Marketing for the Alaska National Guard Public Affairs Office.