By Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin M.M. CosselMarch 1, 2016
HOHENFELS, Germany -- On a cold field, Soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania National Guard, along with their counterparts from the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division are deep in the final stages of their Kosovo pre-deployment training. Helping them ramp up is a complex organization of observers, planners and role-players guiding the scenarios. An integral component of the training team are 35 Soldiers from the California National Guard's 40th Infantry Division.
Their task less glamorous, their job more tedious, running 24-7 operations, the California Guard Soldiers man the Division Tactical Operation Center (DTOC). From this vantage point, they portray the role of Headquarters, Kosovo Forces (KFOR), directing the 2-28 Soldiers through what trainers here call "the worst possible days in Kosovo."
"We're here to help prepare the 2-28 Infantry as they assume their area of responsibility in Kosovo as the incoming Multinational Battle Group-East," said DTOC operations officer, Lt. Col. Christopher Walter. "By replicating the higher command, we provide a realistic integration with KFOR headquarters."
Adding an extra dimension to the training, Brig. Gen. Mark Malanka, Assistant Division Commander, Maneuver, 40th ID, is role playing as the Commander, KFOR. Having previously deployed as the brigade operations officer during KFOR11 as well as a deployment to the Bosnia-Herzegovina region adds to the toolkit Malanka is able to bring to the scenario.
"(Malanka's) ability to accurately portray COMKFOR has given the brigade an in-depth understanding of working with a NATO headquarters." said Walter. "His deep operational experience in the Balkans and his keen understanding of how to run a command post has been a huge plus for the exercise and will pay dividends to the Multinational Battle Group-East as they go forward."
Walter was also quick to point out the exceptional integration from the active duty Soldiers who helped raise the bar on the training experience for everyone.
"This is some of the best partnership with the active duty component Soldiers I've ever seen. The trust they've given us has been incredible." said Walter. "The staff here has clearly embraced the total Army concept our leaders have adopted."
While the focus of the Division TOC in Germany is preparing Soldiers to deploy to Kosovo, residents of California also benefit from this overseas training. A key component of the National Guard's mission is to assist civil authorities in the event of a natural disaster or civil disturbances. As San Dimas, Calif., resident Sgt. 1st Class Michael Cort explains, exercising the operations center is much like going to the gym.
"If you don't use these systems over and over again, you will quickly lose those skills," Cort said. "The same sort of command and control we establish here in Germany is what we would stand up if we were activated for a state emergency."
Echoing Cort's statement, Walter noted running the operation center here prepares members of the Division staff to rapidly respond in the event of a state emergency.
"The building blocks we're working are clearly transferable to the task in which we could be called upon," Walter said. "Exercising those skills here better prepares the division to play whatever role the state would need in a civil emergency."
And while the Division sent its A-team to Hohenfels, there are plenty of opportunities for younger Soldiers to learn new skills and broaden their horizons. Such is the case with 20-year old, Pvt. 1st Class Steven Borrayo of Huntington Park, Calif. An Air Defense Battle Management Systems Operator, Borrayo typically plies his trade watching computer screens, looking for threats from the sky. In Hohenfels, Borrayo finds himself in an utterly new role, that of the RTO, radio telephone operator.
"I've learned to have a bigger view of the operation and how to more effectively get information to the people that need it," Borrayo said.
In his typical air defense role, Borrayo said his focus is on his singular system and he didn't understand the complex relationships between the different information sources. Under the tutelage of Cort, a seasoned command post operator, Borrayo said he now has a better understanding of how to process mission command and maintain information.
"A lot of the standard forms, how to fill them out, and how to keep it all organized … I didn't understand that before we got here and Sgt. 1st Class Cort taught me," Borrayo said as he displayed an immaculately organized binder full of reports.
"Our battle rhythm here helps our younger troops see how a TOC operates at a higher level," said Cort. "They get to practice on the different mission systems and form a better view of the common operating picture."
Whether new to their job or seasoned veterans, Walter was duly impressed with the level of expertise demonstrated by his Soldiers.
"I think the performance of the team we've brought here has been incredible," he said. "They came ready to work, ready to learn and have risen to every challenge thrown at them. We have lived up to and enhanced the 40th ID's great reputation with U.S. Army in Europe."