By Staff Sgt. Samuel NorthrupJune 27, 2017
YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. -- As the Army's number one priority, readiness means more than just the ability to spring into action for a quick fight. It also means being prepared to sustain operations in the field for as long as necessary, often in the midst of unfriendly terrain and an agile enemy.
To prepare for these rigors of sustained land combat, more than 6,000 Soldiers from 22 units across the Army and National Guard conducted Exercise Bayonet Focus 17-03, from June 15 -- 29, at both the Yakima Training Center and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
The purpose of the exercise was to prepare the 2-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team for their upcoming National Training Center rotation at Fort Irwin, California, and was the largest exercise the 7th Infantry Division has conducted since its reactivation in 2012.
The training included force-on-force engagements using MILES gear, blank ammo and simulation ordinance. Soldiers acting as role-players in multiple roles such as civilians, detainees, and reporters, and conducted live-fire training with small arms, vehicle-mounted weapons, Apache helicopters and artillery.
"Our mission is deploy, fight and win decisively anywhere and in order to do that we have to focus on our decisive action and mission essential tasks," said Maj. Gen. Thomas James, commanding general of 7th Infantry Division. "The culminating training event is Bayonet Focus, where we focus on the brigade combat team and of its attachments and subordinate units. We create an operational environment at Yakima Training Center that allows us to get after those mission essential tasks.
"It's a fully instrumented operational environment where we replicate the battlefields we have been fighting in to date and will continue to fight in the future," James added.
There were several training objectives specially built for the Bayonet Focus exercise, said James. One important aspect of training involved the commanders at echelon, who have to drive the operations process, the components of which are to plan, prepare, execute, and constantly assess how operations are ongoing.
"We have the six war fighting functions that we have to synchronize," James explained. "The commander owns those, the staff enables the commander. We want to focus on balancing the art of command and making effective decisions with the science of control."
The training environment of Bayonet Focus was especially conducive for the commanders since the exercise enabled enhanced home station training that mimicked the capability of a Combat Training Center at places such as Fort Irwin, California, and Fort Polk, Louisiana, according to Col. Sean Berg, the commander of the 196th Infantry Brigade.
"We are currently used as a ramp up for brigade combat teams that are on path to a Combat Training Center," Berg said when referring to the Joint Pacific Mission Readiness Capability, known as JPMRC, based out of Fort Shafter, Hawaii. "But the implications for the Army really are for building readiness on the front side or extending readiness on the backside."
The JPMRC also comes with an OCT package (Observer, Controller, Trainers), James explained. The OCTs extend from the company level all the way up to the brigade commander and their presences enables the ability to provide positive feedback to help the organization improve.
The JPMRC brings the core of an operations group, including exercise planners, designers, control and higher command, said Berg. This allows Soldiers and their leaders to work mission commands systems within the reality of fog and friction of force-on-force elements, as well as within fully developed hybrid threats.
"This volume of training area [Yakima Training Center] we can then instrument with the towers we bring in from our system and link it into the home station training, which we have done with communication system, and give them multiple dilemmas at the same time," Berg added. "It really puts a stress on those teams and the down trace elements that they won't get anywhere else until they go to a Combat Training Center."
Creating real-world dilemmas for a brigade organization is a critical component of training, said James. The Army wants an adaptive formation that can fight in any operational environment. Thus, the training scenarios feature an enemy that adjusts and adapts, and forces the American Soldiers to do the same.
"Creating a thinking enemy requires a commander to get inside of the enemy's head and to be able to execute operations effectively," James said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Aaron Spahl, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, and the rest of his battalion, known as Sykes' Regulars, wore black fatigues and adorned their Stryker vehicles with the flags of a fictitious enemy to help distinguish their unit as a conventional enemy force.
"We imparted the importance of not underestimating a numerically inferior enemy and their ability to execute bold plans," Spahl said.
The role of the opposing force, known as OPFOR, was to provide the 2-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team an opportunity to train against a peer to near-peer enemy, said Spahl. This creates a more realistic environment and prepares the 2-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team for their upcoming National Training Center rotation.
It has been challenging, said Col. Jay Miseli, commander of 2-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team. "The enemy within the training scenario sought every opportunity he had to defeat us and it has given us a lot of opportunities to think creatively about how to approach operations to achieve the brigade's objectives.
"It has been vital to how we think about the current state and the future state and the means to achieve that future state," Miseli continued. "By that, I mean every time we took an action the enemy would respond. So there was an action and counter action interplay between our forces and the enemy. That forced us to asses all of our vulnerabilities, mitigate those and make sure we could attack his vulnerabilities as well."
The exercise, involving the deployment of over 6,000 Soldiers, was also an opportunity to ensure that no detail of the operation was overlooked. "It has forced us to exercise every system we have, from our planning to our intelligence, to how we sustain food, water, ammunition and fuel of all these Soldiers over dozens of kilometers," said Miseli.
From Miseli's perspective as the brigade commander, there were three things he wanted his unit to accomplish: practicing organizational capabilities, collectively understanding how each Soldier works together to build an effective fighting unit, and exercising every one of their systems over the type of terrain and environmental stressors that they would see in combat.
"There has been no better way we could execute this even and understand where we stand as a brigade and prepare for our National Training Center rotation," Miseli said. "Bayonet Focus has been a phenomenal training opportunity for us."