FORT HOOD, Texas (April 11, 2013) -- With the recent sequestration and deep budget cuts underway across the entire Army, it was uncertain whether Division West's 166th Aviation Brigade would conduct training for the Texas Army National Guard's 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, set to deploy to Kuwait, in the sophisticated flight simulation center at Fort Rucker, Ala., last month, said Col. Kevin Vizzarri, 166th Aviation Brigade commander.

However, with the exception of a few minor changes, the training was "business as usual."

Generally, the brigade's battalions conduct the majority of training, validating that Army National Guard and Army Reserve aviation units are properly prepared for deployments. However, for the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade's, or CAB, aviation training exercise, or ATX, conducted last month, the bulk of the brigade staff was employed to help train the unit.

Maj. Jeff Christy, a plans officer with the 166th Aviation Brigade, characterized the training in three phases.

"First you crawl, then you walk and, finally, you run." Christy said.

The 166th Brigade kicked off the first phase of the ATX at North Fort Hood, leading the 36th CAB in the Army's military decision-making process, which consists of detail-oriented, step-by-step analysis. In this initial stage, the CAB's staff sections prepared for worst-case scenarios downrange by thinking through various courses of action, including each action's second- and third-order effects or consequences.

In the second phase, the 166th facilitated a command post exercise, or CPX, also at North Fort Hood, in concert with the 75th Division. Under the direction of the 166th Aviation Brigade, the 75th Division created and managed an array of hypothetical situations meant to stress the staff of the deploying unit, said Christy. In a single day, they might face a death of a Soldier, a Soldier who is absent without leave, and a downed aircraft, as well as a social media uproar such as a negative video going viral.

The 166th Brigade's observer controller/trainers monitored the 36th CAB's every move and made on-the-spot suggestions and corrections.

The third and final phase of the ATX, a 10-day event, took place in the Fort Rucker, Ala., flight simulation center. The goal here was to implement the feedback from the CPX and apply it in a much more realistic environment. Not only did the 166th Aviation Brigade continue to test the 36th CAB's standard operating procedures, reporting mechanisms, and commander's critical information requirements, they were also able to simultaneously test the unit's flight operations using the Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer simulators and their operators.

In addition to game play, the two-week training in Alabama consisted of intelligence updates, in-depth cultural awareness training to prepare the Texas Soldiers for the culture in which they are soon to be immersed, a safety brief illustrating the importance of aircraft maintenance, and a final after-action review highlighting the unit's overall strengths and weaknesses.

Vizzarri emphasized that staff-level cross-talk will help the 36th CAB ensure success during the unit's deployment.

"Who else needs to know?" was a common theme throughout all stages of the exercise. Instead of holding information close, pass it to your teammates and leaders so that the appropriate decisions can be made and effectuated, Vizzarri urged the group at the final briefing.

To give the training a more realistic feel and make this a truly successful experience for the deploying unit, the 166th Aviation Brigade brought in members of other units and organizations to play various roles, including managing the scenarios, answering the unit's requests for information, acting as subject matter experts, and operating the simulators.

"The level of sophistication and realism that we get from the use of the 'Sim Center' at Fort Rucker is top-notch, and such an asset to our brigade training program," said Lt. Col. Kelsey Smith, deputy commander of the 166th Aviation Brigade. "We hope to continue using the facility in the future."