ROCKHAMPTON, Qld, Australia — Early on the morning of July 4, 1918, during World War One, a line of infantrymen composed of battle-hardened Australian and fresh American troops rose up from the security of their trenches and fighting positions to attack German forces defending the lightly wooded farmland surrounding Le Hamel, a quiet village nestled in the rural Somme valley of northern France. It was the first time that Allied Australian and American forces had attacked together in combat, but it would not be the last.
One hundred years later Australian and American troops are still standing shoulder-to-shoulder, this time in Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia, wrapping up a multi-national training exercise aptly named after the now-famous Battle of Hamel.
“It’s very inspiring to take a step back and realize 100 years ago on July 4 the real battle for Hamel took place and that we have the opportunity to train with our Australian counterparts during this historic time,” said Col. Robert Burke, commander of the Indiana National Guard’s 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
The 76th IBCT is currently in Australia as the main task force for Pacific Pathways, a yearlong series of military exercises that support U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and build foreign partner interoperability, capacity, cooperation and relationships. Follow the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team “Nighthawk Brigade” on Facebook to learn more about how the National Guard is leading the way in large, multi-national training events during the second portion of this year’s Pacific Pathways exercises.
Soldiers with the 76th IBCT traveled nearly 9,000 miles to join the Australian Defence Force for training that integrates U.S. forces into an Australian Battle Group to strengthen multinational relationships in a large-scale field training exercise. It is the first time that a National Guard unit is being used by the U.S. Army as the lead Pacific Pathways element.
More than 6,000 Australian Soldiers and nearly 800 U.S. military personnel participated in this year’s Hamel exercise. Each one brought a unique perspective to their mission depending on the Soldier’s nationality.
“It’s always good to get training and see how they do things and how it differs from how we do things,” said Pvt. Joshua Teneyck, a National Guardsman attached to a field artillery battery in Evansville, Indiana. “Their guys are all well-trained on all positions of the gun and know what they’re doing.”
“We came with 31 personnel from the 163rd Field Artillery to integrate with the Australian forces in order to learn how they operate and carry some of their operations back home with us to make us better, as well as give them input from us,” said 2nd Lt. Christopher Berry, Teneyck’s platoon leader. “It’s been a good experience all around; I’d do it again if asked.”
Bombardier Scott McDowell, an Australian standing next to the two National Guardsmen in front of an M777 howitzer the group had been training on, also found the shared time together rewarding. “As far as readiness we seem to find ourselves all over the world attached to U.S. units,” he said. “It’s just been good getting that experience hands-on.”
Just as artillery batteries and infantry units worked in concert during the original Battle of Hamel, the Hamel exercise utilized a combined arms approach to the training.
Indiana National Guard Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry Regiment, joined up with Australian Soldiers from 7th Brigade to rehearse a series of battles and engagements to certify the Australian brigade for deployment while fulfilling the annual training requirements of the Indiana National Guard battalion.
“We are very conscious in the world of this day, in the security environment that we all face, that we are never going to fight alone,” said Australian Brig. Ben James, Director General, Training and Doctrine, who controlled the exercise for the host nation. “Our relationship with the United States goes back a hundred years to the battle of Hamel in northern France where Australians and Americans first fought side-by-side in the First World War and of course you can count any number of times since then through Korea, through Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq where we fought shoulder-to-shoulder.”
To James, the Indiana National Guard played a key part in the latest evolution of that century-old legacy of Australian and U.S. Army integration. “Exercise Hamel is about our readiness and our preparedness, and we need to make sure our closest coalition partners, our closest allies, are here alongside us.”