Enablers Critical to First Army Training Successes
April 4, 2012
FORT POLK, La.-- Planning and conducting training exercises for Army National Guard units is nothing new for First Army's skilled trainers. However, bringing multiple organizations together within 75 days to train and evaluate the headquarters staff of the Indiana Army National Guard's 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team on an unfamiliar deployment mission introduced some new challenges.
More than 60 trainers and support personnel from seven different organizations converged here to train, support and evaluate the 76th during its four-day culminating training exercise, a key component, prior to its Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan.
"We were notified of this exercise the first week of December 2011," said Maj. Marie Gutierrez, operations officer for 1st Battalion, 290th Field Artillery Regiment and deputy exercise director for this event. "We've been adapting and overcoming ever since."
Gutierrez pointed out that the planning, coordinating, conferencing and preparing with all the training support agencies involved and with the 76th IBCT prior to the CTE happening at the end of February 2012 was going to be an enormous challenge. "It takes time to complete all of the conferences and synchronization and it takes time to get everyone spun up on the training mission. For this exercise, time was much more of a challenge than distance."
Site Survey Cements Training Plan
Col. Timothy Newsome, commander of First Army's 205th Infantry Brigade and the exercise director, identified a visit to Afghanistan as a critical task in overcoming the challenge presented by the short training preparation time. "I went on their [76th IBCT] pre-deployment site survey (PDSS) the first two weeks of January while my operations folks were starting to put together a training plan that would address the commanders objectives.
Newsome emphasized the importance of the PDSS as a way to help identify training issues for the unit commander and for use in building training events into the exercise. "You want to go over there and sniff the ground, meet the people, see what the real world concerns and constraints are and what the realities of the area of operations are," he said. Newsome stated that participating in the PDSS in Afghanistan helped his team quickly assemble a quality training plan for the 76th.
Col. Jerry Hadley, 76th IBCT commander, agreed with Newsome's assessment and stressed the importance of the PDSS in Afghanistan in helping him determine the needs of his staff and the training objectives for the exercise. He did this by observing the mission sets and speaking to those Soldiers and leaders already in theater. "It was quick, but it was important to go there and see exactly what it looked like on the ground. We got to spend time with Maj. Gen. Huggins, the division commander of the 82nd, and get his insights and training focus and what he thought we should concentrate on."
The PDSS was also a critical step in giving Hadley the confidence in his unit training and deployment preparations. "We are set up for success," he said, "We've got the right team. We are a combined team and will be working with a competent Australian staff. I have no problem with what we have been asked to do. We have the right numbers and the right team to do it and we'll be successful at it."
The Challenges of a Re-mission
Another major challenge in creating a training plan for the 76th involved the unit's changing mission. The brigade was initially mobilized late last summer with a mission to deploy to Iraq. Obviously, that mission changed with the withdrawal of forces from Iraq last year. The brigade headquarters was re-missioned to support a mission in Afghanistan. More than 70 Soldiers, or about half of the brigade headquarters staff, were tasked to work with an Australian military unit as part of Combined Team Uruzgan.
The CTU is a multi-national brigade level headquarters composed of staff officers responsible for planning and coordinating population-centric, counterinsurgency operations and mentoring Afghan National Security Forces within Uruzgan province.
Although he is not taking his entire headquarters team, Hadley is looking forward to this new mission and working closely with coalition forces. "The brigade has not done this type mission in the past," he stated. "The last time we were in Afghanistan we helped with the training of the Afghan Army and we had embedded trainers throughout the country. This is another first for the Brigade."
When asked about the impact of the mission changes on the Soldiers in his Brigade, Hadley stated that his soldiers were adapting well. "I think it's harder on the families and the employers who want the predictability of knowing who is going to be there and when they are going to be there," he said. Hadley was quick to note the recent unpredictability of their mission was a result of where the Army was in terms of its military actions in the Middle East and the pending drawdown of forces in Afghanistan.
Assembling the Training Team
To overcome the challenges of this exercise, planners from First Army's 205th Infantry Brigade (located at Camp Atterbury, Ind.) assembled and led the team of skilled training enablers that included representatives from First Army Headquarters; 1st Battalion, 290th Field Artillery Regiment; 1st Brigade, 75th Training Division (Mission Command); 38th infantry Division Headquarters; Command Post Staff Support Branch from Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; and the Training and Doctrine Command's the Training Brain Operations Center.
The TBOC is a new training enabler for First Army. TBOC uses technology to access data from current operations worldwide and convert it to real world intelligence and operations reports that can be used as the basis for replicating the operational environment in a training exercise. For the 76th's CTE, that environment focused on real world events in the Uruzgan province in Afghanistan.
"We start off with the real world data and focus on the projected area of operations. We bend it in time and provide them with a historical database in order to drive the exercise," said Jeremy Haley, deputy for the Army Training Team at TBOC.
Haley stressed that TBOC's focus is on the intelligence support side of the exercise, "We bend it in time so that S-2 [intelligence] shop can actually go in and analyze the data." He said they provided information from real-world events in Afghanistan ranging from key leader engagements to IED incidents to direct and indirect fire attacks.
"The products we provide depend upon the type of exercise," said Haley, noting that TBOC can add additional intelligence reports and additional layers of complexity to an exercise to focus staff members on certain training objectives.
Newsome, the exercise director, was impressed with the expertise and understanding of the training exercise process. "What TBOC has done is taken actual situations from within theater so we are not just making this stuff up cold, and that speaks to the relevancy that we want in the exercise," he said. "I am very impressed with what they are able to do for us."
Training for Success
Exercise participants agreed that providing a synchronized and effective training exercise was critical for preparing the 76th to deploy. They said the hard work and relationships building that went on in the short time prior to the start of the exercise helped the 76th achieve success in their training.
"First Army has always been great about working with us and getting us the resourcing we need and providing an environment very much like what we will see when we get there," said Maj. Gen. Lonnie Culver, commander of the Indiana Army National Guard's 38th Infantry Division. He highlighted the ongoing support relationship required to conduct such a challenging exercise, "First Army support has always been good."
When Newsome was asked about the success of the CTE, he highlighted the character of the 76th as being a key to exercise outcome. "The character of the unit is one of the ingredients in the success of the training exercise and feeds into whether it will be a successful exercise or not." He notes that both the 76th IBCT commander and his staff are very mature and seasoned. "They know what their individual strengths are and they know how to capitalize on those individual strengths within their collective group."
Approximately 70 Soldiers of the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team headquarters are currently deployed and serving in Afghanistan.