FORT IRWIN, Calif. - "We are quite frankly taking advantage of what is a superb training facility," said Canadian Army Brig. Gen. Jean Collin, commander for Canada's Land Force Central Area and Joint Task Force Central.

The general was referring to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., which is currently facilitating training for a Canadian Army Task Force. The training at the NTC helps prepare the Task Force before a sizeable portion of it deploys to Afghanistan this spring.

"There's the training area that replicates Afghanistan quite well, simply because of the nature of the terrain," Collin said. "But, there is also...the skills, and the people of the National Training Center who also make this a unique experience for the Canadian Soldier."

The unique experience will last six-and-a-half weeks, because Canadian Soldiers will conduct two training rotations, back-to-back. It's the first time the NTC has hosted a brigade-size element from a coalition partner in the war in Afghanistan for a full training rotation, let alone two. The U.S. military facilitates training of coalition partners, but not to the extent that the NTC is currently performing.

"We conduct training for coalition partners at combat training centers routinely, primarily at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels, Germany, but not to this magnitude," said NTC and Fort Irwin Commander Brig. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams. "This is the first time we've had an allied brigade come and train at a combat training center. So, it's a first for the combat training center program. It's a first for the National Training Center."

Canadian military conducts NTC-style trainings for battalion-level rotations at its Canadian Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) near the town of Wainwright in Alberta, Canada. But, because the area is covered in several feet of snow at the moment, and because the NTC had an opening this month and the next, the opportunity to train here was not passed up the Canadian Army.

"Unlike a normal U.S. rotation that only shows up here for the culmination of its training - its final three weeks - we're doing that, but we're also doing a lot of the preliminary [parts] that we can't hope to do very well in Canada because of climate," Collin said.

The Task Force arrived to Fort Irwin just after the New Year, and by early February its Soldiers will have spent 26 days training in "the Box," as the training area here is called. A four-day comp period, or rest, is scheduled for Feb. 4-7, followed by the second training rotation. Two rotations, as NTC veterans can attest, should cover many training objectives for the Canadians.

"This is enabling them to train their forces to a high level and put it as close to their deployment as possible, so they're razor-sharp when they leave here," Abrams said. "And ultimately, it will save lives because they're able to train during a time period when they couldn't train at home."

Hosting the training is a clear reaffirmation to the Canadian government, the Canadian armed forces, that we are equally committed to them as they are to us, said Abrams.

"They have been committed with us side-by-side in Afghanistan since the beginning," Abrams said. "Their Army has stood right next to us. They have a very small Army. They have invested and sacrificed as much blood and treasure as we have. Their number of casualties, both wounded and killed in action, is pretty significant."

Almost 30 years of 'Training the Force' at the NTC and Fort Irwin contributes to the training of the Canadian Task Force, said Abrams. Fort Irwin and NTC capabilities such as such as medical evacuations, medical treatment, logistics and sustainment resources support the training mission.

"It's not just one thing," Abrams said. "That's what makes this place so great. It's all the people who are here, who do this day in and day out, that's their mission. That's what we bring to training the Canadians. We're going to train and treat the Canadian brigade as good as, or better than our own, and up to this point, clearly have exceeded that."

The Canadian general said the support his Army has received at the NTC and Fort Irwin has been exceptional.

"Everybody that we have encountered here on post is willing to help us accomplish what we need and that is - train the Task Force to get to Afghanistan," Collin said. "Everybody is focused on that. And it's not that they're just doing their job, they're doing more than their job, and they're going the extra mile in order to help us. It is my sincere appreciation for everything that is going on to help prepare Canadian Soldiers for Afghanistan."

The training process here will be similar to what Canadian Soldiers see at their CMTC, since the Canadian facility is actually modeled after the NTC, said Collin. The Canadian Army has even brought their own observer controller trainers (OCT's), who are the equivalent of American observer controllers at the NTC.

The Canadians have fewer OCT's, so they have augmented their OCT teams with Canadian leadership, said Maj. Clint Tracy, a U.S. Army officer who serves as an American exchange officer at the CMTC. Operations Group here is providing observer controllers as well. Both OCT's and OC's observe and analyze the visiting unit as it executes or reacts to training scenarios. The CMTC staff and Operations Group staff have been integrated across OCT teams in a partnership for these rotations.

"The role of an observer controller is to provide feedback to [the training unit] that is unbiased and allows them to have an observation of their operations that is unbiased," Tracy said.

It truly is a cooperative venture between Canadian OCT's and OC's from the NTC to the point where both groups will debrief on observations and lessons learned, said Collin.

"Either one of them will engage with the chain of command and offer recommendations," Collin said. "It's becoming almost seamless. I know that the blending is happening and that the cross-pollination and exchange of ideas is happening between those two organizations. It's working very well."

The NTC and Fort Irwin is supporting everything the Canadians want to do during the rotation, said Abrams.

"It's very much a Canadian driven exercise on top of our architecture," Abrams said. "It's a testament to the professionalism of all our team here at the National Training Center because everybody has put their ego aside, everybody has put their own personal opinions and desires aside, and we're doing everything we can to support the Canadians to achieve their training objectives."

Training objectives include spending time on basic Soldier skills, said Collin. If basic Soldier skills are good, then Soldiers can adapt to different circumstances, the Canadian general added.

The Canadians are also emphasizing training on counter-insurgency scenarios to prepare them for what they will be exposed to in Afghanistan, said Collin. Included in the counter-insurgency importance is the cultural awareness aspect that the NTC provides, because of role players and the replication of the Afghan theater.

"You have villages in the desert in the maneuver area that are very representative of what these guys will see in Afghanistan," Tracy said. "There are narrow streets, low hanging wires, people moving around, and vendors. There's a populace that is maybe not necessarily interested or disinterested, but they're there and it's something that Soldiers have to learn to deal with. So, from that perspective there are few places where you can get that type of realism in your training."

The staff and agencies at the NTC provide a level of expertise that can't be found elsewhere, said Tracy. The Army Center of Excellence, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, and Operations Group staff are able to provide various training opportunities such as: training on the latest tactics, techniques and procedures; counter IED operations; key leadership engagements, and; dealing and integrating with host nation security forces. The training helps them with their real-world mission of development of the Afghan National Security Forces and on reconstruction.

The Canadian Task Force is comprised of approximately 3,700 Soldiers, from which 3,000 will deploy to the Kandahar province of Afghanistan, said Collin. The Task Force is made up of three groups that will go out and conduct operations. The Battle Group is battalion-reinforced to conduct combat operations in assisting with humanitarian operations. The Mentoring and Liaison Teams Group will focus on training the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. A third group is the Provincial Reconstruction Team, which will concentrate on redevelopment work.

"But of course they can't do it alone," Collin said. "There are a number of tactical enablers such as engineers, electronic warfare, etc. Then there is a very robust medical organization as part of the Task Force. There's also a robust National Support Element to look after all the logistics and administrative considerations."

Canada's role in Afghanistan begun in 2002 with a more kinetic function focused on combat operations, said Collin. The initial fight involved lethal fire in order to close with and destroy the enemy.

"That still occurs when and if required, but we have evolved beyond that to more of a focus on all of the other aspects of a counter-insurgency as well, and that is everything from nation-building to humanitarian aid and the like," Collin said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16