Soldiers Test Own Perseverance, Prove Again They Are Tough as Diamonds
August 12, 2011
Leadership challenges present themselves in a variety of ways and quite often they are from within a leader’s own unit with his or her own Soldiers. During Operation Diamond Freeze, 75th Fires Brigade’s Combined Arms Forces Live Fire Exercise (CALFEX), one challenge for the Diamond Brigade took on a new level that for some had not yet faced in their career: frigid weather.
With typical southwest Oklahoma January weather ranging down in the freezing temperatures, the cold snap that followed the first week of the exercise’s unseasonably warm weather brought wind chills in negative degrees with more than a fair amount of ice and snow. But as an “all-weather Army”, this was not a time to pack up and head home.
With participating units coming from California, South Carolina, Colorado, Texas, and Kansas, plus one field artillery battalion from 214th Fires Brigade co-located at Fort Sill, Colonel Joseph Harrington, 75th Fires Brigade commander, had more than his own Soldiers to be concerned with. He said if he had decided to call it quits because of the challenge the climate was presenting, he possibly would have set the Army back for years.
From the brigade’s highest echelon to its lowest, leaders had made sure all of their Soldiers were warm, fed, hydrated, and had shelter. Training plans were only slightly altered, which enabled ever Soldier to realize they truly are able to adapt and overcome any challenges that may come their way.
Without a doubt, Col. Harrington had to consider and stay aware of withdrawing troops from the field had the weather worsened. Realizing the difference between good training and a poor decision, the opportunity to show to his Soldiers how to overcome adverse conditions was paramount and quite a lesson for all to learn. A Soldier not far removed from his or her warm-weather climate in the southern states may have faced snowy conditions for the first time. Each now knows his field gear and equipment will work under some of the most extreme conditions, a sure-fire way to build confidence in the younger Soldiers within the brigade.
Despite the weather factor during the CALFEX, the training tasks at hand that had to be accomplished. With the help of ground and air assets combining their experience and knowledge, the brigade accomplished what it set out to do when Diamond Freeze got underway.
Training From the Past for the Future
As the United States Military has been focused on operations in the Middle East for a decade now, many units have found themselves performing “in-lieu of” combat missions. Like some of 75th Fires Brigade’s battalions, this has meant performing duties typically assigned to infantry or military police units. They trained in advance for, deployed and executed the mission, but along the way the Field Artillery Soldier was losing his core competency. In order to reverse that trend and get the 13-series Soldier thinking like an artilleryman again, he had to be re-trained. With the CALFEX, this gave an opportunity for the Soldiers within the brigade to do just that, training for a High-Intensity Conflict mission which would be the most expected mission for an fires brigade and/or artillery battalion. In addition to being able to “fight that fight”, providing ground maneuver forces such as infantry, military police, and other light-arms assault forces danger-close fire and air support is imperative to help them get their mission done. As complicated as it all may seem, this is what the CALFEX is all about, bringing many pieces together to work efficiently side-by-side completing the same objective.
With the very first 75th CALFEX during January 2010, the task was simply to provide that danger-close fire support to a team of 75th Ranger Battalion Special Operations Soldiers. Then the second iteration of the CALFEX in August 2010, aptly named Diamond Inferno, featured more units and more opportunity to expand the training objective. For the third brigade CALFEX, it grew even larger with more than 1,700 Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, Sailors and Department of Defense civilians participating during the 10 day exercise.
The 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company has taken part in every CALFEX and provided exceptional support in their role. While they not only integrated seamlessly with a sister service, including communications equipment, they were training for their own deployment as well. And with the completion of this exercise, Maj. Kevin Stout says their unit is now certified for operations in Afghanistan. In addition to working with an Army element they have become familiar with over the past year, facing weather similar to what they will possibly face in Afghanistan serves quite the benefit. As the ANGLICO Marine communicates with an Navy F/18 fighter jet 1,500 feet above him calling for close air support within split seconds of receiving a request from a ground maneuver unit, in addition while a field artillery fires coordination officer is figuring out how and when to provide exact fire support on that same location needing perfect timing and shot selection to fire a round in the same land and air space a jet, a helicopter, and ground forces are in the vicinity of, a young cannon crewmember eagerly awaits the only word he cares about at the present, “FIRE!”
With Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, 105mm and 155mm Howitzer cannons, mortar teams, AH-64 Apache Helicopter Gunships, and Air Force jets providing bomb support this gives fire power from the United States military only the feeblest minded enemy would want to test. And, as Col. Harrington explained that with each brigade in the Army being independently deployable, fires brigades are supposed to integrate fire support assets and focus on the team fight, which is exactly what the CALFEX is designed to do.
Support of a Larger Brigade
With all of the intense, and sometimes complicated-sounding training on the higher end of the priority scale, the training that sometimes goes unnoticed is what happens every day and night for some Diamond Brigade Soldiers.
For every vehicle, whether an organic or non-organic unit, they all need fuel. For every Soldier, Sailor, Airmen or Marine, they all need food and water, some even require medical care for basic bumps and bruises. Within the brigade, there is a Soldier who provides that support and their job is never finished until the last troop leaves the field.
At the brigade aid station, several medics are assigned to take care of the troops within the brigade’s tactical operations center area. They typically would only see the Diamond Brigade Soldier, and mostly only those assigned to the brigade headquarters or those immediately in the area. During Operation Diamond Freeze, they now had to provide care for all of the additional troops brought in during the exercise, even the civilians who were providing support, as well.
“We really didn’t see any significant cold weather injuries, minor chilblain and such”, says Sgt. 1st Class Jason Hood, 75th FiB Medical Operations NCO, “but we did bring additional cold weather treatment equipment such as thermal and electric blankets, just in case”. Hood also said they usually come to the field with a ten day supply, but didn’t have to resupply too much due to Soldiers taking care of themselves and staying warm.
Something Hood says he was glad to see for the brigade medics was mass casualty evacuation training done at the battalion levels. “They were able to refine some things they hadn’t previously been able to do in some of the past exercises and they did well, especially writing up good reports in their AAR’s (after-action review)”.
Besides the combat medics providing care for sniffles and bruises, all of those vehicles still need fuel and all of those hungry troops have to be fed. This mission fell to the 100th Brigade Support Battalion and the brigade’s forward support companies. Just like on Broadway, the show must go on, and even with a wind chill maxing out at -22 degrees, cooks still had to wake up hours before everyone else, fight the elements just to make sure the brigade and all of its assets got fed. This also meant some units had to pick up food from them to take out to their Soldiers patiently waiting at training areas in the far reach spaces of West and East Ranges.
And all of those giant fuel trucks had to be ready and open for business when a cold and hungry Soldier ground-guided a HMMWV (or Humvee) to their location well before sunrise, again despite temperatures and wind that made for absolute frigid conditions even for the most tempered Soldier.
As Col. Harrington was often quoted saying Operation Diamond Freeze was Operation Sunshine during the first week of the exercise, he instinctively knew his Tough as Diamond troops could pull through the tough elements and accomplish their mission. The Soldiers and leaders learned that indeed they can perform their mission, adapt and overcome harsh weather, be fed, stay warm, and survive without injury building confidence in themselves, their team, and the brigade.