FORT HOOD, Texas -- The 29th Infantry Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion completed a one-week Mission Rehearsal Exercise with First Army at Fort Hood, Texas, Dec. 2.

More than 400 Maryland and Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers participated in the MRX. They were supported by approximately 650 Soldiers from First Army and U.S. Army Central.

"This exercise is unprecedented in both the size of the exercise and the scope of the training," said Col. Jason Joose, the MRX operations, plans and training director from First Army Headquarters in Rock Island, Illinois. "You have active-duty and National Guard Soldiers training together that will later be fighting together as a total force. This is an Army total force exercise from top to bottom."

The 29th ID, headquartered in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, will fill a new requirement in the ARCENT area of responsibility in the Middle East.

"There are more missions than the active-duty component can handle," said Brig. Gen. Blake Ortner, 29th ID commanding general. "There isn't an active-duty division to put in; they're all committed. This mission really does show the seamless integration of National Guard and active-duty units."

At any given time, approximately 5,000 Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers are deployed with ARCENT. The 29th ID will be responsible for both active- and reserve-component Soldiers.

"This is probably a perfect example of a total force," Ortner said. "There aren't three Armies, there's one Army."

Previously, brigades operating in the region have reported directly to ARCENT, a strategic-level headquarters. Inserting the 29th ID to take direct command of these brigades would significantly improve ARCENT's command and control structure, Ortner said.

"I think this is a unique opportunity to have the 29th come in and fill this role," said Maj. Gen. William Hickman, ARCENT's deputy commanding general of operations. "There's one Army once you deploy. We couldn't do our job without the Army Reserve and National Guard doing their part."

The 29th ID will deploy with Citizen Soldiers from a wide variety of backgrounds, including law enforcement, school teachers and engineers.

"That wide range of expertise is the biggest advantage we bring to the table as National Guard," Ortner said.

The 29th ID's MRX kicked off 88 days after the unit received notification of the upcoming deployment.

"Given the magnitude of the exercise and the extraordinary timeline, this was amazing," said Lt. Col. Brian Gerber, commander of First Army's 3rd Battalion, 393rd Infantry Regiment, 120th Infantry Brigade, Division West. "We first found out about this in July. For National Guard [units], that's only three drill weekends."

Gerber credited the excellent work of his noncommissioned officers in bringing the event together.
"NCOs did what NCOs do and stepped up," Gerber said. "I'm really proud of the team and the training environment they put up for the 29th."

The MRX consisted of a division-level combat exercise using WARSIM, a system that allows command staff to calculate the full consequences of any decision made on a simulated battlefield, including battle damage assessments, supplies consumed and medical requirements.

There was just one problem: the 29th ID's designated training area in North Fort Hood lacked the required technical infrastructure for a WARSIM exercise.

"That capability did not previously exist a month ago," Joose said. "We built it up from scratch."

While WARSIM aided training capabilities, the core of the MRX's value was the relationship between 29th ID Soldiers and First Army observer coach/trainers. OCTs provided continuous mentorship and assistance to the 29th ID staff as they worked through the decision-making and problem-solving process.

"This is a good test of where we need to be in theater," said Maj. Dean Grundei, a 29th ID logistics staff officer. "We have a logbook of all the feedback we're getting from the OCTs. They're not here to make us look bad, they're here to help us."

First Army personnel also learned from their experiences in this MRX, enabling them to provide improved training for National Guard divisions deploying in the 29th ID's footsteps.

"Our setup in the MRX mirrors the 29th ID," Gerber said. "We've learned a lot ourselves, day to day, and it's pretty exciting to watch."

Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Dillingham, First Army Division West's senior enlisted leader, believes training exercises are an opportunity to give new leaders responsibilities beyond their range of experiences and normal scope.

"This isn't just about training for combat, this is about training leaders for the future," Dillingham said. "Everyone in the Army has an expiration date. Let the people below us be prepared to take our positions."

With the MRX completed, Soldiers of the 29th ID are staged to begin a precedent-making deployment overseas.

"There's a lot of history here," Ortner said, "and I think there's a great amount of excitement among the Soldiers about this."