FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. - "It's good enough for government work." This is a phrase heard throughout the military, but at one exercise, the battalion staff wants to change the meaning of the phrase.
"I'd like the companies to take away that they need to understand the product they give the customer has to be of the highest quality, has to be a professional product," said U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Major John Walsh, 854th Engineer Battalion command sergeant major from New Paltz, New York. "At the end of the day, we stamp the U.S. Army's name on it. If someone says the U.S. Army is going to come build, they know they're going to get a quality product at the end."
Pride and legacy for the battalion are also forefront in the staff's minds.
"I would echo that to say, we're going to stamp the 854th's name on it, and we want our reputation to endure. We want to come back and do more in the future," said U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Edward Pesce, 854th Engineer Battalion commander from Plymouth, Massachusetts. "There will be exercises for us to conduct here in the future."
"When they hear the 854th, they know they're going to get a quality product in the end. They know they're not just going to get a couple blocks slapped together and some mortar thrown on it and a piece of tin and call it built," added Walsh.
The 854th Engineer Battalion out of Saugerties, New York, provided mission command to units and Soldiers who attended Castle Installation Related Construction Aug. 6-19 at Fort Hunter Liggett, California.
For a majority of the units in attendance, this exercise was a train/ready one year in their Army Force Generation cycle. The ARFORGEN cycle is a five-year plan to prepare units for deployment. The cycle allows the unit to build up their training each year.
"The 854th Engineer Battalion is in ARFORGEN cycle year one, train/ready one, which focuses on individual skills training," said Pesce. "So, this effort is to work on engineer individual skills to get ready for the follow on collective training tasks in follow-on ARFORGEN years in anticipation of future mobilization."
While this is the first training year in their cycle, this is an important year to establish a baseline.
"It is the intention to build the foundation for the follow-on collective training years that involve a collective exercise," said Pesce. "That's the purpose: to build on the skill levels, the management, leadership and [military occupational specialty] skills training to feed to those collective tasks that will be in the follow-on year."
For the battalion and companies, this year is the time to solve issues and ensure operations can run smoothly.
"I wouldn't necessarily say this exercise is for [battalion operations] to shine, but learn from their mistakes and fix what's not working well and just improve upon it. That's what this exercise is all about," said Walsh. "This is actually the same thing for all the companies. This is where we're going to make mistakes, this is where they need to work out how they're going to conduct operations. This is where their lieutenants and [noncommissioned officers] learn how to do construction work, learn how to plan a project. They're going to need to work out these things this year for next year when they go into that [Combat Support Training Exercise], they can start executing that stuff and refining their collective tasks."
This training not only helps prepare the units for their future training exercises, but also for future real-world operations.
"Some of the [companies and detachments] now have different headquarters to report to, different leadership to report to, so it helps them adapt to what may be real-world someday, either in a deployed environment or in a national emergency," said Pesce. "It allows them to see how we do things, to maybe take some helpful hints and/or good lessons learned to bring back to their home units and their battalions to execute in the future as well. But those lessons learned work both ways, so we learn from them and they learn from us."
This experience is also beneficial for the Soldiers of the 854th Engineer Battalion to also take those lessons learned home.
"We have some companies that are not within our battalion that are now part of our task force," said Pesce. "That forces the staff and the organization to look at the big picture, and this is exactly what might happen in a national emergency or a deployment scenario."
"They get to oversee and manage some diverse units they don't always see, so they've had to show up and work with perfect strangers," he added. "This helps them because it forces them to teach and coordinate these other units, explain to them what their expectations are, what reports they want, and they now have new customers, because a battalion staff is there to support the companies. They have new customers who may have different needs than they're used to seeing and different skill-sets so they have to adapt to that too. It helps the battalion staff to manage projects and personnel in a new environment and different conditions."
In addition to learning lessons and adapting to new customers, this year's Castle IRC is also helping the battalion staff find ways to solve issues. One of these according to Pesce, was shortage of Army Combat Helmets for the Soldiers.
"They did something pretty innovative, too," said Pesce. "I was very concerned in a tactical environment, in tactical vehicles, we have to have all Soldiers in a helmet. Well, my staff were able to call and coordinate with the Sierra Army Depot personnel and had those helmets shipped to home station just prior to departure. Just a minor success story that I think it's cool to say, 'OK, they thought outside the box.'"
This is another important aspect of this training: Learning to fix any issues that arise.
"This exercise is teaching a lot of people to solve problems," said Walsh. "The Army doesn't have a box with everything you're going to need to go to war. It teaches them to solve problems, it teaches them to think around issues to solve them, and critical thinking I think is probably the U.S. Army's biggest strength."
While critical thinking is a strength of the Army, it's not something inherent.
"It is a skill set you need to develop," said Pesce. "I have a saying about engineers, 'We are problem-solvers.' That's what we do best. This is teaching them how to figure things out."
The Soldiers at Castle IRC did just that while working on their construction projects, according to Pesce. While this years projects are complete and the Soldiers say farewell, there is still more to be done at Fort Hunter Liggett in the years to come.