CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. -- Soldiers with the Indiana Army National Guard's 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team are conducting their annual training here this month, with a focus on platoon proficiency.
The unit is in the third year of its readiness cycle, and the time spent here in an Exportable Combat Training Capability (XCTC) exercise will prep it for being tested at company and battalion levels next year, followed by being ready for a potential future deployment.
Helping them throughout the process are First Army observer coach/trainers. Driving this is Army Total Force Policy, which aims to ensure that active, Reserve, and National Guard members are trained and held to the same standard. As U.S. Forces Command's (FORSCOM) designated coordinating authority for implementation of ATFP, First Army 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.
Lt. Col. Ross Kilburn, commander of First Army Division East's 1st-290th Brigade Support Battalion, explained the OC/T role.
"It's our job to provide training support to our partners based on priorities and where they are in their readiness cycle," he said. "We are running different lanes, such as react to contact or IED defeat. The lanes are tailored to the platoon. For instance, the base support battalion has done vehicle recovery, tactical convoy, and base support defense. There is also a roving band of opposing force members that can attack at any time. So if Soldiers are in assembly areas, patrol bases, or convoying along the road, there is a possibility they could be aggressed. It's been a challenge for the Soldiers and leaders in terms of physical and mental endurance. In a normal XCTC -- if there is such a paradigm -- they would have the opportunity to refit fairly often."
It's all part of a crawl-walk-run strategy that will leave the 76th ready to deploy.
"It's getting closer to the environment they're going to train in next year at the Joint Readiness Training Center during their prep year four," Kilburn said. "To help them get there, we review the trends and the performance measures every day and make sure we are constantly updating the lanes and tasks to ensure they are meeting their commander's performance objectives."
That means providing high-quality and specific feedback on tough, realistic training done at the platoon level. "That's really been our focus, building competent and lethal platoons," Kilburn said. "If you look at it in the scope of the sustained readiness model, we see that they are where they need to be."
Achieving this success required more than two weeks of dedication and motivation. The planning began nearly a year in advance. "We've worked with them quite a bit over the last year on building relationships at the company level," Kilburn said.
He noted that is a necessary element of building strong partnerships between First Army and Reserve Component units. The 1st-290th, for example, partners with two brigades, 13 battalions, and dozens of companies in the Midwest.
"We are a training resource," Kilburn explained. "With partnerships, we build a training and support relationship with units to be their first choice, their first resource for training support. So if they have some collective training they want to do, whether it's command post operations or company attack or whatever, we can help them put that together. We can conduct external evaluation, oversight, and feedback."
The units and Soldiers then take that feedback and apply them to become a more trained and ready fighting force.
For instance, Lt. Col. Kevin Stephenson, commander of the 76th BCTs 113th Brigade Support Battalion, said, "We've made a lot of great strides during this Annual Training, focusing on platoon level and validation. The OC/Ts have been great, providing coaching and assistance that we can use. They've been very involved and always there to provide a lot of good coaching. They have been instrumental in our success."
The 113th's senior enlisted Soldier, Command Sgt. Maj. Tim Eviston added, "It's been a coaching and mentoring aspect more than anything else. We've been able to identify mistakes and where the weaknesses are, and the OC/Ts provide guidance for us on how we can improve."
Capt. Michael Madison, a First Army OC/T, said the Soldiers are indeed taking the lessons learned and applying them. "I have seen a lot of improvement since they've been out here," he said. "They are eager to learn."
That includes Spc. Robert Davis, a mortarman.
"The OC\Ts have been great," Davis said. "They pointed out what we did well and what we need to practice on. If they see something right away that's a big flag, they'll point it out right away and have us try to fix it right there. If it's something less serious, it gets brought up in the after action review. They've been very professional and knowledgeable."
Meanwhile Spc. Elias Cala, a medic, said, "The OC/Ts have been really good with everything. In the AAR they let us know what is going [on] and what the criteria is for us. They're very professional."
An AAR stands for after action review; an interactive forum between trainers and trained organizations focusing on lessons learned.
Sgt. 1st Class Jose Sanchez, a mortar platoon sergeant, concurred. "The OC/Ts have been great," he said. "There are some areas where we had gaps and they helped us out with that."
Pfc. Joseph Sherman, a medic, added, "They make sure you are always ready for anything. They'll check our gear and make sure we are prepared."
And by having the 76th Soldiers check all those little blocks along the way, First Army OC/Ts helped ensure that readiness in prep year 3 was achieved.