FORT KNOX, Ky. -- "We're all one. We're all the Army."

That sentiment, expressed here this weekend by an Army Reserve colonel, reflects the Army's policy of partnering Reserve and National Guard units with their active-duty counterparts, with the goal of sharing information and maximizing training opportunities for all Soldiers, regardless of their Army affiliation.

"We need to grow that [partnership] more. We need to enhance that capability more for the future," said Col. Richard Morgan, who lives in Mississippi but commutes to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, for his position as commander of the 301st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. "We can utilize each other's strengths to improve our own deficiencies."

Morgan and more than 200 other commanders and senior leaders from the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, active Army, U.S. Army Forces Command and First Army met at Fort Knox Feb. 20-21 for the Total Force Fires, Aviation, Support, Surveillance and Signal Conference hosted by First Army. It was the third in a series of four conferences hosted by First Army for the reserve-component leaders of various types of units, beginning with a get-together for the National Guard's brigade combat teams in March 2015.

"Our mission is to help you help yourselves," Lt. Gen. Michael Tucker, First Army commanding general, told attendees at this weekend's event. "As the chief of staff of the Army has said, the number-one priority in the Army is readiness."

Building the readiness of reserve-component units is the mission of First Army, and these conferences provide a forum for unit leaders to ask questions, present problems and brainstorm solutions.

"First Army is the voice when things are not working," said Col. Michael Stephens, commander of the Kentucky Army National Guard's 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade out of Frankfort. "We can come to First Army, and they can speak as our collective voice."

First Army is also the proponent of a new training strategy intended to help commanders assess the readiness of units objectively, rather than subjectively. The "Objective T" matrix allows commanders to choose standard training options that will result in units being assessed as trained, partially trained or untrained on specific go-to-war tasks. For example, training only in the daytime produces a lower training readiness level than training in both daytime and nighttime.

Objective T's defined parameters of training levels are especially valuable to aviation units, Stephens said, because the Army National Guard's aviation assets are spread all over the United States and virtually never train together.

"There are little detachments in every state," he said. "[Objective T] has us operating to the same level of training and readiness, so when we do come together for mobilizations, we're already trained to an objective standard and level of readiness. We now have measurable, empirical evidence to prove we're warfighter-ready."

Training exercises are where units can build their readiness levels, and a function of the conference was brainstorming innovative training methods and ways to integrate more units into exercises.

"We have about 40 large, collective training exercises every year," Tucker said. "What we want to do is 'snaplink' as many units as we can into those exercises."

The quality of training is just as important, if not more so, than the quantity, Tucker added.

"Soldiers need to get sweat on their foreheads," he said. "You've got to have an exercise that gets your staff's juices flowing and gets people to roll their sleeves up."

To assess units' performance and provide them with feedback, First Army supports exercises with certified observer coach/trainers.

"We do need to have an outside set of eyes to provide oversight and facilitate readiness of units," said Lt. Col. Loren LeGrand, deputy commander of the Illinois Army National Guard's 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade out of Springfield. "The commander's responsibility is the readiness of his brigade. First Army is definitely here to facilitate the ability of the brigade to fulfill its wartime mission."

LeGrand also said First Army's "habitual relationships" with National Guard and Reserve units can be mutually beneficial.

"By that I mean taking lessons learned from First Army, as well as First Army taking lessons learned from its Army National Guard and Reserve partners," LeGrand explained. "We now have more combat-experienced personnel than we've ever had. I think First Army and the Army National Guard can learn from each other."

To make the most of limited resources and to gain from each other's knowledge and experience, First Army leaders encourage reserve-component commanders to synchronize their training calendars with each other and with their active-duty partners. Since First Army's first training conference last year, "Army National Guard and Army Reserve units have an increased level of coordination with active-duty brigades," said Col. Jay Gallivan, commander of First Army Division West's 5th Armored Brigade at Fort Bliss, Texas.

"What I'm observing is good crosstalk and coordination … Army National Guard and Army Reserve units are working with active-duty units to find opportunities where training together or supporting each other's training can contribute to increased readiness."

The weekend conference was "all about relationships," said Col. Larry Pinkerton, commander of the Ohio Army National Guard's 174th Air Defense Artillery Brigade out of Columbus. "It allows us to put names to faces."

It also provided Pinkerton with information that could save thousands of taxpayer dollars. The Economy Act, which was brought up during a discussion about ways to reduce spending for training, would allow Pinkerton's unit to ship only some of its equipment when it deploys to Poland in June. The rest of the equipment the 174th needs to perform its mission is already in the area and may be available for use by the Guard Soldiers; it's a money-saving option many commanders weren't aware of until the conference.

Being in the conference environment helped to establish and build his relationship with his First Army brigade commander, said Col. William Peterson, commander of the Army Reserve's 359th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade out of Fort Gordon, Georgia.

"I'm still getting knowledge about what First Army can do for my command," he said.

However, First Army is supporting one of the 359th's battalions as it prepares to deploy Soldiers to Kuwait and 18 other locations this spring.

"From the brigade standpoint," Peterson said, "I have to make sure the battalion is providing qualified Soldiers for that mission. First Army is helping ensure that."