By W. Wayne MarlowApril 18, 2016
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. - First Army held a conference intended to strengthen Reserve Component unit readiness here April 16-17.
The Total Force Regional Support Group, Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Chemical, Military Police, and Medical Commanders Conference provided an opportunity for dialogue between First Army and Reserve Component units to develop partnerships and to set conditions for the remainder of the fiscal year and beyond.
First Army, as Forces Command's designated coordinating authority for implementation of Army Total Force Policy, aims to continue developing multi-functional unit partnerships between the Active and Reserve components in conjunction with First Army partnered brigades to build and sustain readiness to support ATFP and reduce post-mobilization training days for the Reserve Component.
Indeed, reducing post-mob training days for RC units is one way First Army measures success. The conference was the fourth in a partnership series meant to further that
"This is our final one and every one of them has been absolutely tremendous in terms of sharing information," First Army Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, told attendees. "Not only us sharing with you what we and the rest of the Army can do to help you with your unit training readiness challenges, but you have shed light into a thousand points of darkness, and that's great. And that's what we're here for, to get everybody on the same target regarding unit readiness. That's what we're focused on."
Tucker then segued into how First Army's role has returned to what it was tasked with in the National Defense Authorization Act of 1993. During the troop surge in Iraq in the mid-2000s, First Army shifted its focus to post-mobilization training support, but is now back to focusing on pre-mobilization training support.
"Our role is…to provide training, advice, and assistance to the Reserve Component in order to reduce the time required for mobilization," Tucker said. "When I took this job in August of 2013, Gen. Odierno…gave me written guidance that said, 'You're taking over First Army at a unique time. You've got to take First Army and shift its focus back to the left of mobilization. You've got to help shape readiness for the Reserve Component so when they come to the mobilization site, the mobilization doesn't take as long."
Besides returning its focus to the original intent, First Army also grappled with a mandated reduction of 50 percent of its two- and three-star headquarters.
"We realized that neither of these headquarters could function at 50 percent, so we had to merge one into the other," Tucker explained. "We would bring down the division structure as a staff. The staff function had to be reduced, so that migrated here. So our great division commanders have a staff, but it's here in this building."
Another way of improving unit readiness has been tailoring First Army observer controller/trainers for specific units. "Over 76 percent of combat support and combat service support is in the Reserve Component. Yet First Army had barely 12 percent combat support and combat service support in our MOS skill sets, we weren't dressed for the dance," Tucker said. "So we took it on ourselves to change our entire TDA (Table of Distribution and Allowances). We reshuffled the deck chairs on the USS First Army and we painted some different colors and moved some to different decks, but we didn't add a single chair."
Simply put, First Army realigned its TDA to ensure it possesses the right mixture of combat arms, combat support, and combat training support observer coach/trainers to support Reserve Component formations. That mean units get feedback from someone who understands the unit's role. "Now our TDA matches your structure so when we go out and see you on a training site and you have a horizontal engineer platoon, we're going to put a horizontal engineer platoon there to help OC that platoon, not an infantryman," Tucker said. "And we're committed to this. We will help you meet your training readiness requirements, including helping you build a five-year training plan. We will help you align yourself with existing exercises, which you'll see here today. There are 40 to 50 exercises a year you're eligible to participate in and many of you don't even know they exist. We have a big Rolodex in First Army and this is what we do. This is why we exist, to help you train for mobilization."
First Army Division East Command Sgt. Maj. Royce Manis said the conferences offered the advantage of allowing First Army leaders to exchange ideas at length.
"It's always great interaction," he said. "That's probably one of the best things about these conferences, getting a chance to see folks you haven't seen in a while and a chance to talk face-to-face, which is always much better than an e-mail or a phone call. And meeting new folks is beneficial because that's the way we solve some of the problems, with face-to-face interaction."
That interaction, in the form of breakout sessions, open forums, and briefings, enables First Army leadership to plan for success.
"It's always good when we can get all the folks together to discuss some of the problems we're having and come up with different ideas and different aspects of how to look at the same problem," Manis said. "It's really going well, there's a lot of good discussion going on. I see a lot of good things with the way ahead."