FORT BLISS, Texas -- "Rough Riders" from the 402nd Field Artillery Brigade, First Army Division West, are among the quietest trainers around. They let the thousands of Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines they've trained over the last decade speak for them.
That voice is about to get louder as the first group of individual deployers is scheduled to arrive here Aug. 9 to begin their deployment processing at the 402nd FA BDE CONUS Replacement Center (CRC).
The CRC supports the validation and deployment of individual (non-unit related) service members, civilians and contractors deploying to and redeploying from all theaters of operations. The CRC mission potentially will add more than 20,000 personnel to the 402nd FA BDE's training capacity.
The silent but strong Rough Riders have earned a stellar reputation for training excellence over the last decade. Their many accomplishments say it all.
"All of us at the 402nd are proud the Army recognized our capability and selected us to oversee all CRC Operations," said Col. Carolyn Birchfield, 402nd FA BDE commander. "It nests very well with the 402nd FA BDE Division West and First Army mission."
3rd Battalion, 398th Infantry Regiment, 402nd FA BDE Soldiers, who will be running the CRC mission, conducted a seven-day dress rehearsal here July 12-19.
The 3-398th drill sergeants have limited experience with the CRC operations and the rehearsal was one of several training strategies they used to train-up for their mission.
"The rehearsal validated the training schedule for the individual deployers/redeployers. It was important for us and our enterprise partners to identify any gaps in our systems and processes before we have the first individual deployers arrive at Ft. Bliss," Birchfield said. "We discovered that we have much work to do between now and Aug. 9, but I'm confident that we, along with our enterprise partners, will be ready."
While his Soldiers may not know all the intricacies involved with the CRC mission, Lt. Col. Brian Evans, 398th battalion commander, said they know how to take care of Soldiers.
"There's no learning curve for them when it comes to ensuring Soldiers are prepared for whatever mission they are ordered to," Evans said. "They use their years of training experience as drill sergeants, their civilian skill sets and their personal experiences from multiple deployments to build a solid foundation for mission success for the CRC."
To get the best assessment of the anticipated operations, the brigade structured the live rehearsal just like its culminating training events, including specific injects and observer controllers/trainers.
"It's a construct that our formation is very familiar with," Birchfield said. "The Redleg Battalion (2nd Battalion, 362nd Regiment) played an invaluable role in preparing the CRC BN for its real-world mission.
"Having OC/Ts embedded throughout the rehearsal served as another 'set of eyes' and provided additional insight and feedback for the commander. We created injects to simulate those scenarios we are most likely to experience in the course of CRC operations."
The brigade typically uses its own Soldiers for role-players during CTEs, but for this rehearsal, it looked to Bliss' 1st Armored Division for 100 active-duty Soldiers to play the deployers and re-deployers.
The Soldiers went through the entire CRC deployment and redeployment process, step-by-step, Birchfield explained. The Soldiers did it all, from 'arriving' at the airport, attending all the briefings, qualifying at the ranges and processing through all required stations and checkpoints.
1AD Soldiers played their roles well -- especially the role-played "belligerent deployer" at the Soldier Resiliency and Readiness Processing site, and the "ill Soldier," who suffered a seizure at the range. After each event, the Soldiers provided their insight and relevant feedback.
"I had no idea what deployment training was all about," said Pfc. Patrick McLoughlin, an artillery canon crewmember from 4th Battalion, 27th Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. "But the non-commissioned officers made it a good experience for me. They were upbeat and positive, even when things were getting pretty messed up. They all seemed to be pretty knowledgeable and I did end up learning quite a bit."
Sgt. Joshua Hakim, from HHC 2/1AD, agreed. "I would give these guys five out of five stars. They were professional at all times and treated us well," he said. "They made sure we were taken care of. Since it was their first time doing this, there were a lot of hiccups, but they took it all in stride and were able to adjust fire and make things happen."
Members of the various garrison entities involved in the CRC operations also added their own positive comments to the buzz.
"For anyone to take on a complex mission like the CRC, without having any prior experience, and to be able to make it happen so professionally, speaks to the caliber of those trainers," said Master Sgt. Joe Fierro, Jr., who oversees all mobilization and deployment operations at the Departure/Arrival Airfield Control Group on East Bliss.
Fierro worked with the CRC when it was at Bliss prior to 2007, so he has a basis for comparison, although the previous CRC mission varied a bit from the current one.
"I'm confident these guys will do an excellent job. Really, training is just about making sure you're taking care of the Soldiers, and they got that," Fierro said. "The rehearsal did point out some things they need to iron out. It's all in the details. I've been working closely with the 3-398 for a while now and I like the way they handle things. They don't dwell on the problems, just look for solutions, and then take action decisively and quickly."
Brig. Gen. Michael Navrkal, deputy commander -- operations, First Army Division West and assistant adjutant general-Army for the Nebraska National Guard, observed the dress rehearsal, saying little as he followed the deployers and redeployers through the various events.
He only had to watch the drill sergeants in action to see they are well-postured for success, he said.
"What impressed me most was the high degree of professionalism they demonstrated just as if it was second nature for them," Navrkal said. "Their positive attitude and rapport with the deployers and redeployers, their confident manner, the synergy between everyone -- are all valuable character traits that aren't necessarily learned -- they're ingrained.
"We have the right leadership, the right kind of Soldiers, the right skill-sets, and the right kind of attitude to be successful," Navrkal continued. "Our years of experience in training, equipping, validating and redeploying a variety of different types of units, plus our fortified partnerships with Team Bliss, all the garrison services and other supporting units, makes the 402nd and Fort Bliss the right organization to take on this mission."