By Chuck Cannon and Maj. Chris OphardtMarch 31, 2017
FORT POLK, La. - Honorable Robert M. Speer, acting Secretary of the Army, visited the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk March 23 to get a first-hand look at both rotational and tenant unit operations.
"It's been a very fulfilling visit," Speer said. "I was able to see how Soldiers and civilians of Fort Polk can bring together a tremendous capability to train armed forces. It's very impressive that they've adapted from where we were going with CoIN (counter-insurgency) operations, and back to full spectrum operations."
Brig. Gen. Gary Brito, commander JRTC and Fort Polk, agreed with Speer assessment.
"We've changed quite a bit and stayed ahead of the requirements to train infantry brigade combat teams that come through here and serve as a platform to maintain the readiness of the home station troops," said Brito.
The day-long visit began with a stop at Fort Polk headquarters for an office call with Brito, followed by a command brief with Fort Polk leadership to discuss resourcing and infrastructure.
"The resource shortfalls are challenging readiness, and the JRTC leadership is doing the best they can with limited resources," said Speer.
Brig. Gen. Gary Brito acknowledged that "there are some problems with current budget levels and training resources that I want him to see, and where the Army can assist."
Speer then boarded a helicopter for an aerial overflight of the JRTC training area, before heading to an Observer/Controller roundtable lunch to discuss resource shortfalls and challenges.
"This team has to continue to learn, continue to adapt, and test the rotational units that come through Fort Polk," said Speer to the gathered O/C.
JRTC leaders explained the importance of having combat experienced NCOs and officers to guide rotational units.
Later, Speer visited with Soldiers at the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division tactical operations center (TOC). The 1st BCT was in the midst of a JRTC rotation.
Speer was able to observe operations in the TOC, as well as visit with 10th Mountain Division Commander Maj. Gen. Jeffrey L. Bannister.
"They were many challenges, but they are doing extremely well with that training," said Speer. "I can see from the previous times that folks have been here, they've learned from that and are getting better and better at full spectrum operations."
Speer also spoke with -- and presented coins too -- Soldiers identified by 1st BCT leadership for their exemplary performance during the rotation.
Staff Sgt. Nicholas Burkeen, D Company, 1 Battalion, 32 Infantry Regiment, 1st BCT, 10th Mtn Div, was one of the Soldiers recognized by Speer. He called the visit, "a good experience."
"Hon. Speer was a straightforward guy," Burkeen said. "He will give you an honest answer."
Speer said he recognizes that even though the training provided to rotational units is exceptional, there are still challenges.
"I think they are in tune with where we are as an Army. They have resource shortfalls, and they were able to point them out to me, and this is what I have been talking about to Congress."