Exercise preps Alaska engineers for deployment
May 19, 2010
FORT RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The 6th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade took to the field last month for a two-week field training exercise pursuant to a mission rehearsal exercise this summer at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., and a subsequent combat deployment of the battalion's Headquarters and Headquarters Company and Forward Support Company.
Lt. Col. Roosevelt Samuel, 6th Eng. commander, said the exercise built upon previous maneuvers, allowing the organization to graduate to full-spectrum engineer operations.
"I wanted to hit every possible aspect of engineering operations as well as prepare for the upcoming NTC rotation," Samuel said. "This is our third battalion FTX and we have incrementally increased and raised the bar each time we came out to the field.
"This FTX served to tie in and really get after four major training objectives: command and control, base cluster defense, sustainment operations, full-spectrum engineer operations which included the execution of two bridge missions and also horizontal and vertical construction operations and then lastly good solid convoy procedures capped off by a convoy live fire."
For many of the 6th Eng. Soldiers, the convoy live fire training was their first opportunity to employ Caiman and MAX Pro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.
"New equipment has been key because during the Global War on Terror, one of the greatest things that our Army has done is to constantly improve and update our equipment as we have gone through this new style of warfare which we haven't fought in a very long time which is COIN: counterinsurgency operations," Samuel said. "With each deployment rotation, the Army has fielded approximately five to 10 new and different upgrades, everything from our Advanced Combat Helmet to boots to vehicles to radios just to keep our Soldiers equipped with the very best equipment to increase lethality and our survivability."
The Army engineer said it has been critical for the battalion's Soldiers to get their hands on MRAP vehicles because during previous deployment cycles, units might not have seen the vehicles until training with them in theater.
The battalion's platoons cycled through Fort Richardson's Infantry Platoon Battle Course where they operated newer M1165 up-armored Humvees through an improvised explosive device reaction lane, according to Capt. Melbourne Arledge, 6th Eng. assistant operations officer.
"We are training our Soldiers to be vigilant in our efforts to defeat IEDs," Arledge said. "We are challenging them with different types of IEDs, their emplacement and their employment methods.
"Exposing the Soldiers to these various situations allows us to help them prepare for overseas contingency operations deployments and become a critical piece of our IED defeat effort."
Arledge said each scenario was tailored to the type of platoon participating in the training.
Upon mastering convoy and IED defeat tactics with Humvees, the platoons graduated to the convoy live fire at Bulldog Trail where they employed MRAPs.
1st Lt. Joel Hedman, 2nd Platoon leader, 84th ESC, said the convoy live fire training has boosted his unit's confidence in their training and in their equipment.
"This more closely resembles the type of equipment we're going to have in country, whether we go to Iraq or Afghanistan, so training on the actual equipment has a lot of value," Hedman said. "Yesterday, we had Humvees on the same mission and switching to this has actually changed things as far as the speed you can travel and the capabilities of the people inside. It just gets us prepared for what we're actually going to be using."
The 56th Engineer Company, a vertical construction unit, trained at the Engineer Skills Training Area where they focused on core competencies for defense support of civil authorities in a combat environment.
The company is finishing the construction of five ESTA buildings intended to facilitate engineer training during the winter months, according to 2nd Lt. Gabriel Miritello, 1st Platoon leader, 56th Eng.
The first building is intended for electricians with shelving built in so they can work on wiring, putting in light sets and other electrician tasks.
The second building is for plumbers and the third is for carpenters with both following the electrician building model of facilitating year-round training.
The fourth and fifth buildings are to be used for Sapper training.
"The advantage of the four different building types is so you cross-train Soldiers," Miritello said. "Lots of these Soldiers - you send them on a special mission, say, Attu Island, or the Philippines, and they get there and they have a bunch of 21W (carpentry and masonry specialists) but they don't have any 21R (interior) electricians or 21K plumbers. So doing this enables them to work with a 21W instructor NCO and the next day they can practice and be a battle buddy team to a 21K or 21R."
The facility allows the battalion to build full-spectrum engineering capabilities, Miritello said.
Although the company trained by working on the buildings, the engineer lieutenant noted they still had to focus on combat tasks throughout the FTX.
"They had us setting up security," he said. "They have us constantly being aware of what the situation is, constantly pulling gate guard, so they have you involved.
"It's not like a civilian contractor's job where you're sitting on the job site alone, all you have to focus on is solely on the job site," he continued. "You still have to focus on all the other Army skills, tasks and warrior drills."
Because the battalion has been integrating existing units, inactivating others, standing up new units and transforming the entire organization, Samuel said preparing for a combat deployment has proved especially challenging.
"Sometimes it felt like you were building an aircraft while you were flying it," he said. "When the Army stands up new units, especially if the unit is going to go through a transformation, you are really operating in several phases of the Army Force Generation cycle at the same time.
"It's less difficult to build a unit from scratch and then once you reach your manning and equipping levels start to train up," Samuel said. "Much more difficult when you start with a portion of your battalion already existing and you have to transform them and you have another portion where you're growing them from scratch."
To juggle all of the requirements, the commander said his staff had to carry out three different sophisticated processes.
Battalion transformation synchronization tracked the overall process of converting from a confederation of existing legacy engineer units into a fully integrated multi-mission engineer battalion prepared for combat.
Battalion deployment readiness tracked all of the requirements necessary to meet all of the unit's deployment milestones, including two units which deployed during the growth and transformation process.
The unit standup process tracked the process of taking a unit which might only have a small cadre of Soldiers and a building to work out of to a fully-equipped, fully manned and fully trained combat unit ready for deployment.
Samuel said the battalion's NTC rotation will ultimately serve as a report card for the unit's deployment readiness, reflecting their training, manning and equipping efforts during the last two years.
"Today, NTC rotation is not like an NTC rotation was in the past," he said. "An NTC rotation in the past was a training event. NTC rotations ever since we've started the Global War on Terror are a certification exercise - go or no-go - either you're ready to deploy or you're not ready to deploy.
"We are going to be fighting a world-class [opposing force] and they're going to pull out all the stops."