JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Soldiers of the 36th Infantry "Arrowhead" Division, Texas Army National Guard, came here in late September to begin the final stages of training for their deployment to southern Iraq, where they will serve as the headquarters of U.S. Division - South in support of Operation New Dawn.

Over the course of two months, as the weather turned from clear blue skies to rain and finally to snow, the Texas Guardsmen and women conducted back-to-back mission readiness exercises at the Battle Command Training Center, where headquarters like the 36th's hone their skills in order to handle the complexities of managing stability operations in places like Iraq.

"The men and women of this division have been doing an outstanding job getting mission-ready for this historic deployment," said Maj. Gen. Eddy M. Spurgin, the division commander. "They have worked very hard and I have the utmost confidence in their ability to complete the mission ahead of them."

The 36th Division will be the third and last National Guard headquarters to deploy to Iraq since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003-an honor that was reflected in the comments and hard work of the division staff throughout the course of their training at the BCTC. The two exercises were designed to imitate, from the perspective of a division headquarters, as realistic an operational environment as the trainers could devise, including key leader engagements and press conferences with Arabic-speaking role-players, as well as battle drills and a variety of other situations or incidents that could occur within the nine provinces of southern Iraq while the 36th Division is there.

Tactics, techniques, and procedures learned from past deployments-including those of the 1st Infantry Division, who the 36th Division will replace in January-were used during the exercises. They gave the division staff the unique opportunity to streamline their practices and procedures in reaction to anything that might happen while deployed.

"The scenarios are very realistic and challenging, plus we always need to be ready for the worst-case scenario," said Maj. Warren Kostencki, a native of Harker Heights, Texas, and officer-in-charge of the day shift for the division's current operations integration cell.

Arrowhead soldiers worked alongside counterparts from 1st Army Division-West, the 191st Training Brigade, and the 1st Infantry Division throughout the exercise. The trainers mentored the 36th staff in managing not only their own operations, but also the operations of the advise-and-assist brigades currently located in the USD-S area of operations.

"They basically observe and teach us TTPs that they have seen used," said Kostencki. "They are very sound in their doctrine and all of them are experienced in what we are doing here."

As the higher headquarters for a number of active-duty and reserve-component units deployed to southern Iraq, the 36th Division's primary responsibility will be helping manage the responsible drawdown of U.S. forces in advance of the Dec. 31, 2011, deadline, as well advising and assisting their partners in the Iraqi security forces.

"I know the division is ready for this responsibility," said Spurgin. "The early mornings and long nights of training have really paid off."

The exercises also gave division leaders a chance to discuss and rehearse some of the actions needed to transition their mission to the U.S. State Department's new Basra consulate late next year-something that hasn't been done in recent memory and will likely be an historic first for a National Guard division. The new Basra consulate will reportedly be the largest U.S. consulate in the world, with a staff of more than one thousand.

"While most U.S. military forces will be departing Iraq, it's important to remember that this does not signify a decline in our commitment to the people of Iraq," said Spurgin. "Rather, it shows the readiness of our partners in the Iraqi security forces to take on the full scope of their responsibility for the security and stability of southern Iraq."

The second and final mission readiness exercises concluded in a comprehensive after action review attended by the Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr.

When it came to the 36th Division's upcoming mission, Casey spoke on the importance of being flexible and culturally adept, especially since the division will be paving the way for the State Department.

"It's absolutely critical to get the mindset right," he said, adding that he will be thinking of his Texas citizen-soldiers every day.

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