HOHENFELS, Germany - Tucked away in a corner of the Hohenfels Training Area woods next to Camp Albertshof, the 16th Sustainment Brigade's, or "Knight's Brigade," 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion field headquarters lies behind rows of razor wire and sand bag bunkers.
The 21st Sustainment Command subordinate units arrived at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels two weeks ago to build their headquarters and start logistics support for exercise Combined Resolve II.
Through the month of May, the U.S. Army's European Rotational Force, the 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, based out of Fort Hood, Texas, will field the European Activity Set at exercise Combined Resolve II with over 4,000 participants and 13 allied or partnered European nations.
The European Activity Set is a battalion-sized set of armored vehicles and equipment maintained by the Army Materiel Command, pre-positioned on the Grafenwoehr Training Area, and supported by the 16th Sustainment Brigade when fielded at the Hohenfels Training Area.
The 18th CSSB will provide fuel, water, food, maintenance, transportation, cargo transfer and supply services to all units present and the European Activity Set at the exercise.
For the Knight's Brigade, this is more than an chance to support the European Rotational Force, but also a chance to test its own capabilities and improve upon practice.
"I think this is a great opportunity to test our capabilities inside the 18th CSSB," said 21st TSC Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Jack O'Conner, during a visit to the field headquarters. "It requires more than the delivery of passengers and equipment, but sustainment operations as well. This type of exercise gives us a good chance to see how we would work with our coalition partners and test the interoperability of our leaders and systems," he said.
Commander of the 18th CSSB Lt. Col. John Bretthorst said, "previous years of exercises here, the CSSBs have all operated as 'white cell,' meaning that they don't go out tactically, and just drive up to deliver supplies to the maneuver units doing the exercise. In reality, the enemy does not leave your logistics units alone. We saw in Iraq where they would target sustainment and logistical units."
"The past years in Iraq and Afghanistan, we've done a lot of convoys, but we've always deployed to a built-up base," said Bretthorst. "Deploying with our equipment, setting up an area of operation, and defending base have been skills lost somewhere in the past years. To be expeditionary is a new concept to a lot of these new Soldiers."
The sustainment Soldiers labored through rain, wind, snow, sleet, hail and mud - sometimes experiencing all four seasons in one day - to build their home away from home.
Anniston, Ala., native Sgt. Dustin Leonard a 515th Transportation Company Solder serving as the "sergeant of the guard." Leonard is responsible for building the perimeter protection and the security of the headquarters area.
"I had eight Soldiers for this job, and none of them have ever deployed. The last time I reinforced structures with sandbags was 2009 in Iraq. We covered the tops of our company area with three layers of sandbags. I think this was good for the younger Soldiers who have never been deployed. It's about getting back to the basics. If they deploy, they will have some experience setting up these sandbag bunkers if I'm not there to show them," Leonard said.
In a honeycomb state-of-the-art set of "Deployable Rapid Assembly Shelter" dome tent system lays a web of satellite images, radios, maps and a 16 feet by 8 foot sand table under a projection screen with the most up-to-date mission details.
"It took me three days to build the sand table. We [the intelligence section] update it with anything that comes through the net. It helps our guys get an instant picture of the battlefield. We have all the satellites and computers, but now we can operate even if the power goes out," said battalion intelligence analyst, New York native, Pfc. Shawn Mount.
Battalion Communications Officer, Capt. Brandon Stone spent a month prior to the exercise to train his staff and validate computers, satellite systems and radios between the 18th CSSB and the 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion to make sure that the sustainment Soldiers could communicate with all partner U.S. forces on ground, and multinational partners.
"The 18th CSSB and the 44th ESB are right down the road from each other in Grafenwoehr, but we had not done any joint exercises together," said Stone when asked about the training prior to exercise Combined Resolve II. "From a signal standpoint, during a deployment it's very rare that you get to meet that person you're talking to and troubleshooting a link. They're just a voice to you on the phone. Training together [before this exercise] allows our Soldiers from the 18th CSSB, 504th Signal Company and the 44th ESB, that are providing communications for the 1st Cavalry, develop those working relationships."
"We can do all the pre-combat checks in garrison, but it comes to exercises like this to really catch problems. I think it's time we put our systems out for the test and find our vulnerabilities, so we can continue to improve our operations," said Bretthorst.
The Combined Resolve II maneuver exercises start May 19 and the 18th CSSB continue to check on their logistical systems as night falls on May 18.