JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Most Army units prepare for overseas contingencies by performing an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise. This entails ensuring Soldiers' paperwork is in order and going through the motions of a mock deployment. The Soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) pride themselves in unconventional training methods and the unit's Dragon Week was no different.
"Dragon Week is a 3rd Battalion tradition that we have been unable to execute over the past few years because of our operational tempo," said the 3rd Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Jason Clarke. "We wanted to get back to our roots and instill the sense of tradition that 1st SFG (A) has been great at for the past 60 years. Dragon Week stresses our Soldiers both physically and mentally as they navigate their way through multiple tactical and technical challenges."
Due to the nature of their training and mission sets, Army Special Operations Forces are becoming leaders at redefining the readiness model, according to 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne). Not only are special operations forces much smaller with a very high demand for services, but they experience an extremely high mission deployment rate. Those challenges make it difficult to maintain a sustained ready force, especially when teams operate in different phases of readiness.
By testing readiness at the higher level, 1st SFG (A) is proving readiness can occur outside of the team. To exercise this, 3rd Battalion personnel awoke to an early morning phone call with instructions to bring pertinent paperwork and equipment post-haste for an unknown mission. After the battalion's human resources section checked readiness packets, Soldiers found themselves preparing for an airborne operation with a follow-on mission.
After landing safely, the teams representing every company in the battalion, were given the first of 10 points to navigate to by staying off roads and using only a compass and a map. At each point they had to overcome physical and mental tasks prior to receiving their next point. The tasks ranged from assembling and disassembling heavy weapons to constructing a rope bridge and crossing an obstacle, to assembling a 300-piece Mickey Mouse puzzle for time.
There was very specific reasons for designing the training in such a way.
"We wanted to make it challenging but not to the point where it detracted from the espirit de corps and team building, said Capt. Mike Dutile, the battalion logistics officer and the officer in charge of planning the event. "If it was too bad, we would have lost the focus."
There were also real world implications in the training set up.
"Everything our teams were asked to do during Dragon Week was 100 percent applicable towards our operations, whether a training event in Asia or a combat operation in Afghanistan or Syria," Clarke said.
Staff Sgt. Katie Whelan, a preventive medicine noncommissioned officer assigned to the battalion, supported the medical lane. Teams were required to self-administer tourniquets, inject IVs, and carry a teammate on a litter for time.
"A lot of the teams had Soldiers who weren't trained as medics, but could complete the tasks," she said. "It was pretty impressive to see."
At night, the teams established patrol bases and waited until morning before continuing with small unit tactics and patrolling. The teams also participated in maritime operations at Solo Point involving paddling a boat 1,000 meters to recover a Soldier and then returning to shore. From there, they moved to a weapons range to finish with a stress shoot.
Clarke stressed the fact that every echelon the staff played a part in the overall success of Dragon Week from running the command post, coordinating communications between all units, manning the opposition force, conducting intelligence collection, and acting as roll players to add degrees of realism to the exercise. The joint training included an Airman specializing in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape helped train Soldiers escape from various restraints.
"The amount of support to conduct Dragon Week is almost as high as the operators going through the exercise," Clarke said. "Our support Soldiers are just as important as our operators to ensure mission success."