FORT HOOD, Texas -- More than 340 observer coach/trainers from First Army Division East's 177th Armored Brigade, a Combined Arms Training Brigade, stationed at Camp Shelby Mississippi, returned home this week after supporting eXportable Combat Training Capability 17-05, a 21-day brigade field training exercise.

An Army National Guard program, XCTC is designed to certify platoon proficiency -- in coordination with First Army -- by bringing full training resource packages to National Guard and active duty bases around the country, allowing units to train on their schedule and close to home.

Combining these assets -- First Army OC/Ts and XCTC -- provides Guard units with a challenging training environment that helps strengthen their readiness in areas ranging from sling load operations and route clearance to reacting to contact and mass casualty.

"When you bring assets and resources like this together to support training -- the OC/T capability of the 177th and the simulations battlefield effects and condition setting of XCTC -- it establishes an environment for our partners that is tough and real," said Army Col. Brandon Robbins, commander of the 177th Armd. Bde.

"Every repetition they get in an environment like this, underpinned by doctrine so that they are measuring themselves against the training and evaluation outlines, allows them to see and evaluate their readiness," Robbins said.

Capitalizing on that training environment, Army Col. Jimmie Cole, commander of the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Tennessee Army National Guard, said he wanted to do more than just validate his formation at the platoon level.

"Having my entire formation out in the field simultaneously allowed me to achieve much more than just training and validating my platoons," Cole said. "I was able to get multi-echelon training from the smallest level of my unit all the way up to the regimental level, working on troop-level missions and conducting training lanes at all levels of my command."

To meet the needs of combatant commanders around the globe, such training has become increasingly important.

"More and more the demand on our formations is increasing while the number of training days that are required of our Soldiers to train and meet that demand stays the same," Cole said. "So it's becoming important that our formations are ready, faster."

He credits his unit's longstanding partnership with the 177th as the driving force behind their successful increase in combat readiness.

"They've been our training partners for many years, including mobilizations to Iraq," Cole said. "They have helped us shape, for lack of a better term, the road to war.

"My guys understand that the 177th partnership is here to give us an external set of eyes to look at our formation and help us to identify things that we may not see, ultimately to help us find ways to improve as we move forward," he said.

Command Sgt. Maj. James Crockett, command sergeant major of the 278th Armd. Cav. Regt., agreed, adding it's a partnership that is built on trust.

"From the beginning they've always said they were going to give us a second set of eyes, a heavy coach and mentorship," Crockett said. "They've done just that, helping us see the areas we need to work on in our organization to increase and sustain our readiness."

According to the commander of the 177th, it's also a partnership of utmost professionalism.

"The important thing for us was to establish a professional relationship with our partners so that they trust us and know we are a resource they can rely on," Robbins said.

"Whether it is for leader development, coaching [standard operating procedures] or techniques and tactics, it doesn't matter.

"We have to be that organization they can call on for relevant and timely information that helps them make their planning and preparation better so they can execute to standard," he added.

Crockett agreed that the mastery of doctrine by the observer coach/trainers from the 177th has had immediate and lasting effects on his Soldiers' readiness.

"In field craft, the 177th and First Army have stressed [troop leading procedures], [pre-combat checks] and rehearsals to build upon the fundamentals from the get-go," Crockett said, adding that it has strengthened his Soldiers and strengthened the 278th overall.

"There is not one Soldier leaving here that has not improved in some way than when they arrived," he said.

In addition to fundamentals and mission essential tasks, his Soldiers have had opportunities to work with and develop unique capabilities.

"It's been several years since we've had the whole regiment in the field at the same time and they've been able to do things here that they have never done," he said, "such as sling load operations, working with [AH-64] Apache attack aviation and unmanned aerial surveillance systems."

Crockett said he couldn't be prouder of his Soldiers, a sentiment shared also by Robbins.

"It's humbling when you see your Soldiers grow," Robbins said.

"I could not be more proud of every leader inside 177th in coming here and having their game face on," he said, "because every observation, every element of coaching and teaching that has occurred equals learning and that learning equals readiness."

He added, "Without those leaders -- those OC/Ts -- we would not have been successful in enabling the increased training readiness of our partners and helping to shape the progress for this unit as they continue on their road to war."