GAITHERSBURG, Maryland - Freezing cold and snowy weather challenged U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command Soldiers undertaking readiness training this March at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Army lawyers and paralegals were among the thousands of Reserve Soldiers taking part in this year's Combat Support Training Exercise. More than 185 USARLC Soldiers, from five Legal Operations Detachments, took part in the training. Soldiers from the Fort Knox-headquartered 84th Training Command designed the exercise so Army Reserve "ready force" units are prepared for current operational demands.
During the exercise, a half-foot of snow fell. A warm spell melted that, causing flooding and mud. Freezing temperatures then turned soggy ground to ice, creating slippery conditions - especially at night. Soldiers spent most of the time bundled in extreme cold weather gear. Then, it snowed again.
"The JAG Corps has brilliant people who are educated and driven, but they are used to operating in air-conditioned offices," said Staff Sgt. Derek Roy, a paralegal noncommissioned officer from the Massachusetts-based 3rd Legal Operations Detachment who served as an "Observer, Coach, Trainer," or OCT. "This was not that. It was the exact opposite."
A nighttime walk to the latrine meant risking a hazardous fall. Rough field conditions meant eating Meals Ready to Eat, patching holes in drafty snow-covered tents, re-staking tent poles in muddy earth and sleeping on cots. Facing austere conditions, Reserve Soldiers worked together to maintain their camp - relying on skills acquired in their civilian lives or on previous deployments. Some worked on heating, others repaired tents. Everyone pitched in, Roy said.
"They went into the exercise with two objectives, conduct lethal warrior training and qualify with weapons," Roy said. "They left with much more."
Enduring the cold, USARLC Soldiers set about training on warrior tasks. This meant going over how to best carry, treat and evacuate wounded comrades. They refreshed skills on chemical, biological and nuclear hazards. In squad formations, they reacted to snipers, indirect fire and ambushes.
While USARLC Soldiers trained, fellow legal Soldiers from the 364th Sustainment Command were part of a phased combat simulation. The faced everything from claims and contracts to operational law and military justice scenarios, said Roy, 29, of Stamford, Conn., who was one of four 3rd LOD Soldiers serving as OCT's, during the exercise.
Soldiers conducted legal research, debating courses of action and supporting command decisions on a variety of topics, to include how detainees are treated in a host nation, Roy said.
Legal Soldiers had three roles: taking part in the combat simulation, undergoing warrior task training and preparing fellow Reserve Soldier for mobilization.
A team from the USARLC headquarters, made up of leaders from the operations and training directorates, supported the LODs at Fort Knox. Soldiers from the 1st LOD, 75th LOD, 151st LOD, 153rd LOD and 174th LOD took part in the exercise. Five NCOs from each LOD underwent three days of "lethal warrior" training and then trained their own units.
Another USARLC unit, the 9th LOD, was also working at Fort Knox, preparing Soldiers for mobilization. During the last two days, Soldiers from three LODs - the 8th, 134th and 139th - pitched in to run a weapons range so all the Soldiers from the five ready force LODs could qualify.
"It really shows what the Legal Command brings to the fight," said Sgt. Maj. Stephen Minyard, USARLC's senior enlisted leader for operations.
Most USARLC Soldier arrived March 11, knowing the next 11 days would be a challenge. The hardships of the icy field environment was unlike battle assembly weekends. It forced teams to draw on their Soldiers' experiences.
"Training like this redefines readiness. Soldiers learned to trust their equipment in a harsh environment," Minyard said. "At garrison, readiness is making sure Private Snuffy has his sleeping bag ready. At 24 degrees, it's knowing he can climb into it at night and stay alive."
The intent was realism - for Soldiers to know what it's like to be the first troops on the battlefield, having to establish their own forward operating bases. When the advance party arrived, there was an empty field. With help from quartermaster Soldiers, they set to work, Minyard said, quickly getting the knack for setting up tents.
"That's where the realism comes in. When the main body arrived, five days later, we had a camp waiting, with tents, heaters and generators."
Still, some Soldiers thought the Army had made a mistake. Where were the barracks?
"What happens if you deploy to a country and there's nothing there waiting for you?" Minyard said. "This was the intent, to get Soldiers comfortable with their equipment under austere conditions."
Heavy snow and wind collapsed tents. Melted snow caused flooding. At night, it was freezing. Sickness, hypothermia and falls were realities Soldiers faced.
"This was an exercise in resilience. We had to all come together to assist one another, to make sure the mission was successful," said Lt. Col. Arthur Rabin, a JAG officer with the 151st LOD. "We faced very, very harsh conditions."
Thousands of Reserve Soldiers took part in the nationwide training. While most of the training took place at Fort Knox, other activities were in Virginia, at Joint Base Langley and Fort Story, at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin and in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Army Reserve provides roughly 40 percent of the Army's attorneys. Headquartered in Gaithersburg, about 25 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., USARLC has 1,800 personnel stationed in 104 cities in 43 states in the continental U.S. and two overseas locations. USARLC oversees operations for 28 LODs, most of which provide general legal services, plus administrative and operational law.
Legal Soldiers learned what it takes to sustain a forward operating base under adverse weather, set up base defense and coordinate logistics. One morning, they even found time to conduct a ruck march. Junior leaders had opportunities to take charge. Days were long, with work often lasting 12 to 14 hours.
While the USARLC wrapped up operation on March 22, some Reserve Soldiers continued training for another week. For some, the training as extensive and intense as this had not been done in years, Rabin said.
"This sharpened the edge. Soldiers came together. Everybody stepped up," Rabin said. "I come away from this exercise feeling comfortable that I could deploy with this team. I know now that everybody can do their job."