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Training our citizen soldiers

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The Maine Regional Training Institute grand opening

BANGOR There's a new training space for Maine's National Guard tucked away on Hildreth Street. Many wouldn't even know that a new 105,849 square-foot state-of-the-art facility even exists. But it does, and members of the National Guard from across the country are making use of the training offered there.

Officially called the 240th Regiment Regional Training Institute (RTI), it is the primary military training site for military personnel in the state. And they don't use the term 'state of the art' lightly. The campus offers something called 'flexible training space,' which allows the classrooms to be adapted to suit various applications. Though it technically opened for classes in early August, the RTI held its grand opening ribbon cutting on Oct. 12.

The educational building's configurable classroom space can be used as a 3,780 square foot combined classroom or partitioned off into three separate classrooms for smaller groups (each with overhead audio-visual displays and built-in speakers. The projectors can either be synchronized, so all the screens are displaying the same presentation or they can be operated independently. There is a distance-learning center which can connect to any National Guard computer in the world.

'There is a full range of courses - engineering, carpentry, masonry - for the enlisted soldier,' said Lt. Colonel Brian Veneziano, commander of the Maine RTI. 'We have small group instructor training courses, [an] office candidate course, we host mobile training teams. If the Army has a course, we will host it here.'

These trainings can take place over a couple of hours, or require weeks to complete. The campus can house up to 99 soldiers in the three dorms (or billets). There is also a fully-kitted cafeteria which will be staffed after October.

The entire facility is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and utilizes the latest green technology, including geothermal heat, solar arrays and automated lighting.

The facility is open to all branches of military service as well as the Department of Defense civilians.

The 144-seat auditorium is the centerpiece of the facility, including a high definition screen and projector, high def video camera system, audio system with wired and wireless microphone capabilities, surround sound and wireless hearing assistance for the hearing impaired.

But the flexibility doesn't end there: There is the primary training area multi-purpose room. The floors are deliberately left unfinished to accommodate the wide variety training offered (vehicle maintenance, construction and masonry or traditional classroom space). There are all the necessary data port hookups to create a fully-functional classroom environment, a space that previously was used to construct sheds from scratch.

constructMaster Staff Sergeant Anthony Romano is currently teaching construction to a group of Army National Guard soldiers from Maine and around the country. His class is taught in two parts: classroom learning and practical application (building things). Romano tries to create a rich learning environment by creating displays in the classroom, using many items from local lumber companies.

'I take someone who is not an engineer and make them a viable contributor or participant of the team,' he said. 'They will be able to contribute and help out.'

He notes that the skills taught here are not only applicable to soldiers in the field, but also for civilian life at home everything from building garden sheds, laying foundation for a garage or constructing your child's play house.

And the students come from a mix of backgrounds. Some have experience with construction or masonry, but some come in as a blank slate.

Private First Class Merica Berry is learning the trade from scratch. In her civilian life, she worked as a debt collector. Construction is a completely new trade for her, but one she is embracing.

'I had no experience with this,' she said. 'It's a fast-paced course, but you get one-on-one with the instructors, plenty of materials and supplies and everything is broken down. If I can understand it, anyone can.'

For those training to become medics, there is a dedicated medical training room complete with an exam table, sink, counter space and equipment. One of the most incredible pieces of equipment is the iSTAN medical simulator 'dummy.' This 'dummy' can simulate an incredible array of disorders, react to medicine that is administered, blink, breathe, bleed and more.

medicCombat Medic Recertification

Sgt. First Class Ernest Aguilar teaches an intensive five-day refresher course for Army medics. After the course, the soldiers have also met all the requirements for getting recertified in emergency medical training for the State of Maine.

'These are perishable skills,' said Aguilar. '[This course] is applicable to a civilian, because [when it's completed] you have your EMT license.'

Being able to treat someone medically in the Army National Guard differs slightly from working in a hospital or in the field as an emergency medical technician.

'[The soldiers taking the course] have already been certified as combat medics, but they need to be re-certified yearly,' said Sgt. Sarah Cayia, who is part of the 240th Regional Training Program.

She explained that the soldiers receive classroom training as well as field exercises designed to address the realities of combat medicine and team building. One of the exercises involved participating in an 'IV obstacle course,' where the soldiers had to locate dummy arms and successfully place IVs on the run.

'We're trying to encompass different facets of training and train [our soldiers] the best we possibly can,' said Cayia. 'We're training our soldiers so they can look after their fellow soldiers and handle any situation they come in contact with.'

'The obstacle course scenarios help teach junior medics the importance of gaining IV accessibility in non-ideal situations,' said Sgt. Matthew Libby. 'It shows you real-world situations. It's not always going to be straight, flat and easy.'

He said that it makes the soldiers assess and evaluate the situation as they would in the real world, with poor lighting, cramped conditions or worse.

Libby, when not working as a citizen soldier, is a full-time student working towards becoming a paramedic.

'This is an amazing class. There's a lot of hands-on, realistic scenarios,' said Staff Sergeant Tracey King. 'They get us out and involved and applying our skills under pressure. The instructors are wonderful and go above and beyond to make this a course that people want to come to and really enjoy.'

King doesn't have a medical background, highlighting the dual nature of many citizen soldiers. Her regular job is working in human resources at a car dealership when she's not learning how to save lives.

The course itself is four days long, and this training has nine soldiers participating.

Comprehensive Soldier Fitness

Training is clearly important in the Army Reserve. But our soldiers are being stressed not only physically but mentally, and the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) training is designed to help soldiers deal with psychological stress.

CSF training is a program is designed to train trainers, essentially allowing people from around the state to learn to become Resilience Training Assistants.

'[RTAs] will assist Master Resilience Trainers to provide training and education in resilience skills, like cognitive skills, flexibility and staying mentally agile so [soldiers] can tolerate stress better,' said Captain Tara Young, the R3SP Coordinator. 'It's really important to get these skills before encountering a challenge.'

According to the mission statement about the program, the training is designed as part of a long-term solution to recognizing and mitigating high stress in other risk factors for soldiers and their families through interaction or intervention.

'The main parts are recognizing when folks are having trouble and not ignoring it,' said Sergeant First Class John Rivard. 'I hope to bring this back to my unit as a trainer.'

'The course is about becoming a stronger soldier both mentally and emotionally and helping other soldiers,' said Captain Chris Elgee, who is taking the course to become an RTA. 'These are skills I feel I developed on my own, but now [because of the course] I have the vocabulary to talk about them and present them [to other soldiers].'

One of the skills taught to the trainers is the concept of 'Hunting for the good stuff.' In other words, identifying the good things that have happened that day amongst the stress.

'They have to find three good things and reflect on them and how it can counteract the negative bias and contribute to good things,' said Young.

IED Training

One of the threats facing our soldiers in Afghanistan is improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or roadside bombs. One of the courses being taught at the RTI is an IED Training, where soldiers learn about these threats in detail. They are actually taught how to construct, and then deconstruct these devices. This allows them to be able to identify the IEDs and dismantle them accurately and safely. The training actually uses the same materials that IEDs are made with overseas.

'It really does a lot to keep soldiers safe. The main goal is to bring the same number [of soldiers] back that we bring over there,' said Sgt. Daniel Eggert. 'It will be extremely important to pass this to my guys under me. They will employ this [knowledge] in Afghanistan most likely.'

Much of the training material was brought to the RTI by the Department of Defense, and they left the soldiers more than $70,000 worth of training material to use for this class.

Last modified on Wednesday, 17 October 2012 13:05

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