By Pfc. Jesus J. Aranda, Task Force Lightning Public AffairsMarch 21, 2009
Task Force Lightning leadership hosted a two-day Commander's Conference for the leaders of the many brigades supporting the U.S. Army in Northern Iraq at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, near Tikrit, Iraq, March 12.
The conference brought together commanders and command sergeants major of the subordinate units under TFL, as well as special guests, to discuss concerns, resolve issues and develop ideas for future operations with the Iraqi Security Forces within Multi-National Division - North.
The primary goal for participants of the conference was to provide a common operating picture among the brigades and TFL leadership.
"This is our opportunity to discuss what is working and what is not working," said Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., commanding general, MND-N.
"Everybody is here to build upon our team cohesion," said Maj. Francis Moss, Fusion Planner, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 25th Special Troops Battalion, 25th Infantry Division. "This will be something like a continuation of our team building exercise at Hawaii."
Prior to deployment, many of these same leaders assembled at Camp Erdman, near Mokuleia, Oahu, for a two-day team building exercise. The event presented physical challenges and moral exercises to participants in order to better prepare the leaders of the brigades, which would soon make up "Task Force Lightning," for the obstacles and rigors of their service in Northern Iraq.
Exactly how well the brigades and units melded together after the initial hundred days in theater would be one of the many subjects of discussion.
"We're at a perfect spot - about one hundred days into the rotation. We've tried some things that work and some things that didn't," said Brig. Gen. Robert B. Brown, deputy commanding general - support, MND-N. "Here we can hear the ideas and thoughts of others and go back to pass it down the chain of command and help every Soldier - that's the goal."
"The assessment is very important and we're here to access our first hundred days," said Moss, one of the events coordinators. "From here they will plan where to go next."
Following the assessment of the current situation for the area of operations, the leaders incorporated many of the same mental exercises that were utilized during the team-building event at Camp Erdman, though now in a dramatically different climate.
These exercises included an open forum regarding which values and ideals are most important for TFL and their ongoing partnership with the ISF. The primary of these was developed into the team creed, "Na Koa Pona," meaning warrior trust in Hawaiian.
"Our creed is the foundation for what we do and how we operate as a team," said Brown.
Na Koa Pona was selected as the team creed during the first meeting of these leaders and trust continues to be a strong anthem for TFL.
"The more leaders bond together, the more they trust each other, and increase the potential of the organization," said Brown, one of the principle organizers of the leadership team-building events.
"You can't ever second guess what the Soldier to your left or right is saying. Lives are at stake here and lives are our most precious commodity," Brown said.
The conference, for some, marked the first occasion, since combining to form TFL, to become acquainted with their fellow brigade leaders on a more personal level.
According to Brown, three of the brigade leaders who now support TFL were first time participants of the leadership conferences.
"Due to the nature of modular brigades, two brigades were already deployed and one we didn't know would be a part of the task force," Brown said.
Representatives of the Soldiers they lead and the Iraqis whom they support, the commanders and command sergeants major of each brigade are encouraged to actively participate in open discussion on any topic felt to be need of attention on behalf of their brigades. Topics concerning improvement of service, such as methods to better work alongside ISF counterparts more effectively and how to improve the economic situation in Iraq, were discussed.
"All of the commanders are present and there will be certain topics scheduled to be discussed but the commanders can present any concern or bring up any issue they want to," Moss said.
The second day focused on team building through physical events, where Sand bags relays presented each team with fast-paced competition.
Furthering the challenge, each team was presented with mental challenges during small breaks from the physical challenges. These trials challenged each team to assemble their thoughts to organize clues and solve visual puzzles.
"With this group, I cannot imagine the conference being anything but beneficial to Soldiers and the people of Iraq," said Peter Thompson, foreign policy advisor to MND-N.
At the close of the conference, special guest Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, Multi-National Corps - Iraq, praised the work of TFL within MND-N.
The conference closed with an look ahead for the next conference and the next hundred days in-theater for TFL.