MONROE COUNTY, Wis. (July 13, 2014) -- Members of the general public can usually picture military troops conducting traditional training such as firing weapons and driving armored trucks.
But not all training is so concrete.
Just as troops must practice their on-the-ground skills, commanders and other leaders have to train in the process of making the kind of behind-the-scenes decisions that can make missions succeed or fail.
An Illinois-based Army Reserve unit concluded a year-long collaborative training effort here, May 13, as part of a large exercise aimed at improving that exact skill set.
The unit, the Great Lakes Division of the Army Reserve's 75th Training Command, worked with senior leaders from more than a dozen military organizations for several months before deploying to Fort McCoy for the training event, which focused on effective decision-making.
Col. Mike Ansay, one of the division's subordinate commanders, led the 75th's support of the exercise. He says those coordination skills are critical for all military missions, especially those involving armed conflict.
"If you look around the world you will find that many of our adversaries have access to the same technology that we have today," says Ansay.
"If everything else is equal, the force with the better leadership team is going to be the one that prevails."
Building those skills is often accomplished through training simulations, in which military leaders are presented with a fictional scenario -- a scenario that is based on a combination of past real-world military missions and likely future missions.
The leaders must then respond to the given scenario by drafting operational plans, and allocating and deploying their resources.
Some of these resources, such as troops and vehicles from certain units, are physically present during the exercise and actually move based on the leaders' actions. Other resources exist only in the scenario. They are not present for the exercise and are only deployed virtually.
The development and execution of operations plans in a notional conflict or other emergency provides an opportunity for military leaders to be evaluated on their ability to analyze, decide and communicate.
That's where the 75th's primary role comes in. The unit's team includes personnel who watch these leaders perform, and then provide feedback over the course of an exercise.
Ansay says the observe-and-mentor process that the 75th provides has high stakes.
"That's the weight that's on the observers' shoulders," Ansay says. "It's their job to make sure our military organizations have the best trained leaders in the world."
While the 75th supports several types of simulation exercises, the audience for this event was a collection of senior Army units whose missions focus on providing logistical support for large military operations.
Because of that focus, the event is known as a Combat Support Training Exercise, or CSTX.
For many of the units being evaluated, this was their last large training event before they would receive a designation of "available" for possible stateside or overseas missions.
This exercise lasted 21 days, and included participation from nearly every branch of service.
Col. Ben Reinwald is also with the Great Lakes Division, and deployed to support the exercise.
Reinwald says this was not only the largest and most complex CSTX the Army Reserve has conducted, but also the largest in which the 75th has participated.
"We had 90 units and close to 6,000 personnel on the ground at one time in this exercise. There were a lot of moving parts and we were able to pull it off safely and successfully," says Reinwald.
Personnel from the division spent several months gathering information in order to prepare for this exercise, including consulting with each unit's leadership team to find out where they felt they needed to be challenged the most.
Most of the fictional developments, referred to as "injects," presented in the simulation were designed by members of the 75th prior to the exercise. Many specifically targeted those needed practice areas.
"This is the last chance for these commanders to evaluate the effectiveness of their staffs and units in depth, and make any adjustments," says Ansay. "This is as big as it gets in training."