VICKSBURG, Miss. - Soldiers should train for any contingency and be trained and ready to support their missions. One way to ensure this is with annual training exercises based on these contingencies. An exercise that does this is Ulchi Freedom Guardian, an annual defense-oriented exercise held in August and designed to enhance readiness, protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula.
During this year's UFG, approximately 80 Army Reserve Soldiers form the 412th Theater Engineer Command headquarters and its Deployable Command Post deployed to Korea, Japan and Hawaii to provide engineering expertise in support of mission requirements for Eighth Army, U.S. Forces Korea and U.S. Army Pacific.
The exercise had a variety of participants, but the 412th TEC is unique with its mission as a command post, focusing on possible scenarios.
"We trained on mission command, mission planning and execution, and current operations," said Col. Matthew Russo, chief of operations, 412th Theater Engineer Command.
These are important tasks to ensure in any contingency the staff and DCP can support the Eighth Army's mission "to deter North Korean aggression against the Republic of Korea. Should deterrence fail, 8th Army leads non-combatant evacuation operations and generates combat power for decisive operations in the Korea Theater of Operations. On order, 8th Army forms a Combined Joint Task Force and conducts Unified Land Operations."
"As troops flow into the country they'll need extra staff to manage those troops to make sure they're in the right place at the right time to support the combatant commanders," said Sgt. Maj. Terry New, chief engineer noncommissioned officer, DCP 2.
This is where the 412th TEC comes into play, providing that extra staff. The 412th participates in the exercise to maintain their skill in that management.
"The 412th Theater Engineer Command has a real-world mission to support the Korean Theater of Operations. We provide direct support to Eighth Army, so it's important that on a regular basis we have a presence out there, and that we train and we understand our real-world mission in order to maintain our capability to be able to accomplish it," said Russo, a Greensboro, North Carolina, native.
Maintaining this capability is important, and participating in this training allows the DCP to adjust their personnel to improve their success.
"That's what we do, we go over there and support Eighth Army, but it also trains us for any real-world contingency," said New, a Mena, Arkansas, native. "It teaches us that we have the capabilities of working as a team, we learn people's strong points and weaknesses so we can adjust to put the best person in the best slot."
This training not only allows better personnel management, but also improves Soldier skills.
"Training, regardless of whether it's an individual training exercise or it's a collective training exercise, the troops always benefit from it, any quality training will benefit the troops," said New. "It makes them better Soldiers, more proficient in their assigned duties and tasks."
On top of Soldier skills and personnel, this exercise also improves teamwork.
"Training always benefits the unit," said New. "It prepares us to work as a team regardless of what [Unified Combatant Command] we go to. We get more training to work together as a staff in case we're ever called up to do it in a real-world situation."
The 412th improved their operations through this exercise, but Russo felt the limits of the exercise didn't allow the unit to truly show their capabilities.
"While we do a good job integrating with Eighth Army, there is certainly room for improvement," he said. "In terms of engineer planning and engineer expertise, there is more the 412th Theater Engineer Command can offer the Eighth Army. I think we can go beyond the confines of the exercise."
While Russo felt the 412th TEC was limited, he also said the 412th Soldiers showed how important the engineer assets are to the mission.
"I'd say it went well," said Russo. "I'd say the 412th Theater Engineer Command did a very good job of demonstrating our value as engineers to 8th Army."
The 412th TEC and DCP continue to train to be ready for any contingency they may encounter.