Exercise helps 5th Bde. prepare for mission-readiness test
October 3, 2008
By Don Kramer
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Successful execution of a comprehensive fire coordination exercise was the last step in preparing the Destroyer Brigade for its biggest challenge next February.
The newest Stryker brigade in the Army, Fort Lewis' 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, is scheduled to conduct its mission-readiness exercise in February at the National Training Center in the Mojave Desert at Fort Irwin, Calif. The field training exercise that ended last week at Yakima Training Center was exactly what the brigade needed to set the conditions for success in California.
Colonel Harry D. Tunnell, 5th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. commander, called the complex live-fire FTX the brigade's "culminating exercise," one that focused on subordinate battalions calling for supporting fires in conjunction with maneuvering onto enemy-held objectives.
Tunnell's planners incorporated the missions they anticipate receiving when deployed to Southwest Asia, having written the scenarios after extensive coordination with I Corps staff and the two Stryker brigades most recently back from Iraq.
Each 5th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. maneuver battalion was given a different challenge while moving from Fort Lewis to Yakima. The battalion's 8th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment conducted reconnaissance along two routes - the standard 160-mile northern route from Seattle eastward, then southeast to Yakima, and a longer route southward almost to Portland, Ore., then east for a total of 270 miles.
Though Tunnell said NTC is the premier training venue in the Army for brigade-sized elements, the Destroyers accomplished some training objectives last week that they could not perform in Fort Irwin.
"Strykers are famous for long moves done very quickly," Tunnell said, "so that's something we stressed to get out here."
The 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment started with missions at Leschi Town and Regenberg, the urban fighting training areas on post. From there, the battalion took the southern route to Umatilla Chemical Weapons Depot in Eastern Oregon to conduct an attack en route to YTC.
The 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment took the northern roads but also received a mission en route to recover a downed aircraft and its crew. Lieutenant Colonel Burton Shields' Tomahawks diverted to the state firefighter training center near Issaquah to conduct the rescue. They arrived at YTC as darkness fell, moving directly into a night attack upon arrival.
The 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment also moved along the southern route, about a nine-hour march, did a reconnaissance handover with the 8th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment on its target, and immediately executed an attack on their target upon arrival at YTC.
The FTX marked a transition from the "Ex Eval" phase of training last summer, during which the companies in each maneuver battalion conducted rigorous live-fire exercises. By doctrine, Tunnell said, the companies were evaluated by the brigade staff.
For the past two weeks, battalion commanders conducted operations sequentially under the brigade's control.
HHCs call for fire
The exercise also provided an opportunity to evaluate headquarters companies. On Sept. 24, the Headquarters and Headquarters Company commanders executed the critical reconnaissance handoffs with cavalry elements to occupy observation posts and coordinate indirect fires. The HHC commanders' Strykers carried tactical air control parties, two-man Air Force teams out of the 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, who directed air weapons teams of UH-64 Apache helicopters' rockets and 20 mm cannon fire in support of the battalion assaults, as well as close air support from B-1 bombers. The Apaches came from the Idaho National Guard and the B-1s flew out of Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. From their observation posts, the HHC commanders coordinated air assets, then looked closer for supporting fires.
After the air assets completed their work, Capt. Josh Gloner, commander of HHC, 1st Bn., 17th Inf., demonstrated "echeloning indirect fires," he said, working down through calls for 155 mm howitzer fire from 3rd Bn., 17th FA, through the 120 mm mortars of each battalion, the 60 mm mortars of the companies, finally to direct fires - from the .50 caliber machine guns and Mark 19s on the Stryker vehicles of the assault forces.
The crews of 3rd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment repeatedly accelerated to achieve maximum rates of fire, shouting and repeating commands to load and reload the 95-pound rounds and send them booming downrange, powered by white-bag charges.
The 3rd Bn., 17th FA commander Lt. Col. Dennis Smith said his guns were supporting the air assets in suppressing enemy activity while the HHC commanders occupied their observation posts and conducted their recon handoffs. When the recon phase ended, the guns got busy.
"When 1-17 Inf. conducts their attack, we're supporting with planned fires, then sequentially 2-1 Inf. and 4-23 Inf.," Smith said. "That's how we provide support for this operation."
Fires were directed by all levels of command, depending on the tactical situation.
"The maneuver commander looks at all the assets he has available to him and integrates that into his maneuver plan," said Maj. Corey Delger, the brigade fire support officer. "So each platoon leader, company and battalion commander, (had) the assets to do that, whether one or a combination of assets. But the bottom line is he has to look at what assets he has allocated and determine where he needs to apply that asset to have the decisive effect."
Platoon leaders, company and battalion commanders, and fire support personnel at all levels were exercised in the overall effort to match supporting fires with maneuver at the crucial moment.
Moving out of the house
Prior to Ex Evals that stretched from June through August, Tunnell said, the brigade's subordinate battalions had concentrated on individual Soldier tasks, ones classically taught by the NCO corps. But in today's Army, individual tasks encompass much more than rifle marksmanship and drill and ceremonies.
"The NCO has a critical role," Tunnell said. "NCOs are always responsible for small-unit training, but it's usually a weapons system, first aid. Now they have things like Arabic, digital proficiencies. The NCO corps has done just a superb job of taking ownership to make sure that collectively we can function at this level."
Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Prosser, the brigade's top NCO, compared the brigade going through its paces last week to a teenager needing help with "trials and tribulations. We want to move out of the house."
He referred to the support received from a variety of agencies, but starting at the top with the I Corps commanding general's first priority, to support the war effort by training units to fight and win.
"We couldn't have done it without I Corps," Prosser said. "Corps did a great job for us."
Prosser was with the brigade for more than six months prior to its official stand-up in April 2007, drawing the distinction between the early days and the current exercise.
"It's been a long haul," he said. "It's great out here to see close to 4,000 young warriors, the fruition of their hard work and sweat equity. Our Soldiers are very proud of what they're doing and what they're going to do for their nation."
The massive scope of the brigade FTX required a total team effort.
"We couldn't have done all this without support across the board at Fort Lewis," Tunnell said. "We've got OPFOR from 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment (3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division), Observer/Controllers from 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, sustaining support from 593rd Sustainment Brigade, contracting support from Fort Lewis, things like mass casualty required contractors and role players. Just to get route clearances to conduct night attacks took a lot of work. We've been very fortunate with support from I Corps and Fort Lewis."
The resources were well spent in the experience gained by Soldiers and leaders at all levels, Tunnell said, and invaluable lessons learned in after action reviews.
"By the time we finish today," Tunnell said Sept. 24, "we will have done by doctrine everything a brigade can do to train. So when we hit our NTC training in February, we'll be at our highest level of training."
Don Kramer is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.