By Season Osterfeld, Fort Riley Public AffairsFebruary 5, 2018
FORT RILEY, Kan. -- Throughout January, Fort Riley and surrounding communities have been hearing the booms and feeling the shakes of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division's field training exercise, Devil's Rising.
Devil's Rising is designed to simulate situations Soldiers would find themselves in during a deployment. It's also one of the largest FTXs Fort Riley has held, said Steve Crusinberry, director of the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. At the same time, a new M109A7 Paladin howitzer is being tested by Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st ABCT, 1st Inf. Div.
And all of this training and testing would not have been possible without the dedication of the civilians within DPTMS Range Operations.
"It started in November, we war-gamed and idea for them because the brigade really didn't know where they saw themselves and where they wanted to go," said Michael Patro, range safety officer, Range Operations, DPTMS. "We templated a scenario for them, got the brigade to buy in, so we have constructed a company level and then a platoon-level live fire event based on whatever the battalion wanted, that's what they're going to receive."
Once the plan was set in motion, Range Operations constructed temporary buildings out of plywood for Soldiers to practice clearing. They built targets -- some static and some able to pop up when they're needed -- that vary in size from small like a human being to much larger for artillery to strike.
As the exercise is consuming a majority of the ranges available, Range Operations also mapped out each training area, Patro said. This required them to review the space needed by each piece of equipment or personnel to ensure they had the proper space to fire and maneuver safely. When creating these areas, Patro and other personnel would lay them out on maps until they felt they created an area that worked. After, they would program the coordinates into a GPS and head out to the area to review it in person and verify it really would work. In some instances, they found the terrain to be unsuitable, so it would be back to the drawing board to create a new space.
"We have several firing boxes that had to be graphed and ran against different safety diagrams to see where they couldn't move, where they could move, where we couldn't put a target, where we can put a target, and we did that a lot, created a whole bunch of targets for them and now they're shooting and having fun," he said.
Creating proper training spaces for each activity was vital because the requirements for each piece of equipment is different. The space needed for a M4 carbine versus a M1064 Mortar Carrier or a M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle have wildly different requirements, Patro said.
"The ammunition that they're using out here, each one is unique and has its own characteristics, so when you mix maneuver and different weapons systems, there's restrictions and limitations to all of them," he said. "It's easy to say 'hey, everyone's bringing an M4 to the fight,' but it's harder when you say, 'hey, this guy has an M4, he's right next to a tank who's right next to a Paladin who's right next to a Mortar Track or a Bradley,' so that's where the unique dynamics are."
During the FTX, Devil brigade operates four to five events at the same time, Patro said. To the north, they're working with the new Paladins; to the south they may have crew gunnery; to the east it may be a convoy and to the west there could be unstabilized gunnery.
Patro said once the FTX began, the Soldiers became responsible for deconflicting the ranges so no exercises overlaped or impacted another to give them the same experience they would have during a deployment.
While setting up ranges is a familiar process to Range Operations, preparing a range for the new Paladins did pose a few new challenges due to the differing needs of the equipment, Patro said. Some of these needs required them to work with off post organizations like the Army Test Evaluation Command in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the Kansas Department of Transportation and Army Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager.
"They have additional direct-fire requirements and a maneuver requirement during the evaluation period that is nothing that we've seen before," he said. "We had to coordinate with off-post government agencies to validate a firing plan for the western strip as well … They had a testing requirement -- something we've never seen before -- so the installation had to create additional places to store ammunition and then some of the places they are firing from, we have never fired artillery from."
Additionally, the FTX is unique as the brigade is training at platoon, battalion and brigade levels, not just at company level, which they normally see during a live-fire exercise, Patro said.
As Devil's Rising progresses, Black said they have been able to give the units additional air space to call in UH-60 Black Hawks and other aircraft.
"This is exercise is kind of unique because the past exercises were always company live fires," he said. "We started out that way and now we're just doing platoon live fires, so the complexity of it is not as large, so we're able to give them air space at the brigade level. The battalion levels are actually running the live fires today (Jan. 25). The brigade level is controlling all the indirect fires coming out of 1-5 FA and they're controlling aviation, so any aviation that's coming into play, they will control anything coming into this restricted area. It's kind of a different way that we've running it this time as compared to last time."
Despite the differences, Devil's Rising is less stressful and time consuming for Range Operations to manage, said Thomas Black, ranger officer, Range Operations, DPTMS. This is because they separated each range into a zone and assigned specific personnel to them. During other exercises, personnel would oversee everything going on and move back and forth between each range to check up on everything, resolve issues, change batteries in the pop-up targets and so forth.
"For our guys, it's a lot less stress because really all they're tracking is part of the brigade or part of the battalion," he said. "They're not trying to track everything that's going on out there."
A FTX like Devil's Rising is important to Soldiers and unit readiness because of the hands-on and real-life experience it offers from varying weather and terrain -- something simulations can't imitate, Patro said.
"With the money constraints, a lot of their training is done in simulations, but there are somethings that you just can't replicate," he said. "You can't replicate a tank going down a snow packed road. You can't replicate breaking down in the field, so you're getting to see them fight through that, but at the same time, they're making their departure times, they're executing what they have planned."
To give commanders a more authentic experience, Range Operations also constructed several observation points within the firing areas. This enables commanders to safely observe the impact zone and call for fire themselves, just as they would in theater, Black said.
"It gives them that opportunity to control that," he said.
And while they can't replicate everything a unit would experience during a deployment, they can get them pretty close, Patro said.
"Fortunately, we are in the business of making sure people are ready to go to wherever they get called," he said. "You can't replicate a lot of things you can't see in theater, but we're trying our best to do that to get them as much theater-like in a controlled environment so they can hopefully get it into muscle memory."
For a lot of the Range Operations personnel, Devil's Rising is also personal, Patro said. Many of them retired from 1st ABCT like Patro and Black, who were both in 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st ABCT, 1st Inf. Div.
"The other good thing is almost everybody from range ops either retired out of 1st brigade, so we're kind of seeing all these people and we're kind of like, 'yeah, I've had your job before too,'" Patro said.
And seeing the Soldiers improve their skills makes all the effort worth it, Black said.
"The whole thing is all about training Soldiers, training platoons," he said. "They're building to that level of complexity and hopefully getting better and better."