ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Army National Guard has undergone a shift in its training approach and many Army Guard Soldiers in certain critical units have seen an increase in yearly training days and requirements.
That increase is part of Army National Guard 4.0, an initiative based on changing Army needs and designed to allow the Army Guard to respond quicker and more effectively to a variety of missions worldwide, said Army Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, the director of the Army National Guard.
"Army National Guard 4.0 [means] being ready [to deploy] without notification of a specific, potentially upcoming mission," he said. "We are implementing this transformation because our country needs us to do so. This is due to the current size of the total Army and the multiple threats that our country faces from potential adversaries. The Army National Guard must shorten post-mobilization times in order to respond more quickly and effectively to answer the nation's call."
The change in training tempo is primarily focused on armored and stryker brigade combat teams, as well as attack-reconnaissance aviation battalions, said Kadavy.
"Our high-priority units -- such as armored brigade combat teams, stryker brigade combat teams, attack-reconnaissance battalions and critical enablers -- must be ready on short notice for unspecified missions," he said. "We have to maintain the readiness of these units in order to respond to emerging demands."
Under the previous model, units would be alerted for deployment roughly 18 months in advance and then train for the specific mission, including training time at the mobilization station prior to heading overseas.
With Army Guard 4.0, a multi-year training cycle is used that builds on collective unit tasks to maintain high readiness and prepare units to deploy quickly in response to contingency operations, said Kadavy.
It also means a 30 percent reduction in post-mobilization training time he said, adding that for those high-priority units, the Army Guard 4.0 model culminates in a brigade rotation to either the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, or the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, in the fourth year of the training cycle.
Large-scale training at those locations every four years is new for many Army Guard brigades, which under the earlier model may have done a rotation there 10, 15 or in some cases 20 years ago, said Kadavy.
Increased training days will be needed to prepare for and execute those larger training plans, said Army Col. Jesse J. Kirchmeier, chief of strategic plans and policy for the Army National Guard.
"Two of those years in that training cycle will have more than 39 days of training per year," said Kirchmeier, adding that 39 days represents the long-standing training requirements of one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer.
The total number of additional training days varies based on unit type and the training year, he said, stressing that Army Guard units will maintain a higher level of collective training and proficiency following the fourth year of training.
"If you go to a [Fort Polk or Fort Irwin] rotation and then you go do a follow-on-mission, you are better trained to go do it," said Kirchmeier. "If you don't go to a [planned] follow-on-mission, we give Soldiers more [training] days to maintain that higher level of training that year [after going to Forts Polk or Irwin] so if you are needed [for a short-notice requirement], you don't have to train as much after you are mobilized and before we can send you overseas."
Additionally, the number of Army Guard brigades slated for rotations to Fort Irwin or Fort Polk has increased from two to four brigades each year.
"We'll send two of our light [infantry] brigades to Fort Polk and we'll send two of our heavy [armored or stryker] brigades to Fort Irwin," said Kirchmeier.
The new training plan is proof the Army Guard is continuing to adapt to an "ever-evolving military landscape," said Army Col. Robert D. Ferguson, commander of the Mississippi Army National Guard's 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team, which completed a rotation at Fort Irwin last summer as part of the Army Guard 4.0 model.
"The robust training schedule we have now allows us a greater opportunity to hone our warfighting skills, as well as set expectations and shared understanding at every echelon throughout the brigade," he said.
That translates to better prepared individual Army Guard Soldiers, Ferguson said.
"The training and skillset required to maintain the readiness that Army National Guard 4.0 demands will make you a better Soldier, better leader and better person in every facet of your life," he said.
Army Guard 4.0 represents the fourth major evolution of the Army Guard since the establishment of the all-volunteer force in the early-1970s, said Kadavy. The 1980s saw the Army Guard evolve further as part of the Total Army concept, he said, followed by its transition to an operational reserve and larger, more frequent deployments after 9/11.
The new training plan focuses on future Defense Department and Army requirements, rather than past standards, said Kadavy.
"We are shaping the Army National Guard based on what we will have to do over the next 20 to 30 years, not based on what we did in the past 100 years," he said.
While the plan represents a shift in training for certain units, many Army Guard members will not see additional training above the 39-day requirement, said Kadavy. However, he added, Soldiers still need to be in the mindset that they could soon deploy.
"Regardless of whether or not Soldiers will have additional training days, unit readiness begins with individual readiness," he said. "In fact, individual Soldier readiness is more critical than ever and Army National Guard members need to be mentally and physically strong, up to date with their job requirements, proficient with their individual weapons and cleared of any dental or medical problems."
That also includes ensuring family readiness as well.
"It's not only a matter of [Army Guard Soldiers] being tactically and technically proficient, but also ensuring families have a smooth transition through train-up, mobilization and deployment periods," said Ferguson, the commander of the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team, adding that family readiness events and outreach services are set up to help prepare families for the challenges that may come with deployments.
While Army Guard 4.0 represents a large change from previous training cycles, Kadavy said Soldiers are prepared for it.
"Morale and enthusiasm are high because our leaders are straightforward about the operational tempo and about what we are asking of our Soldiers, their families and their employers," he said, adding that many Army Guard Soldiers enlisted or re-enlisted knowing a deployment would be likely.
"They want to train and they want to deploy," said Kadavy. "That's why they joined."