FORT BLISS, Texas -- First Army Division East Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Todd McCaffrey, made his initial visit to El Paso, Texas, to observe First Army's latest mobilization efforts, March 27.
Last October, the Mississippi Army National Guard announced their 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team would deploy to Kuwait to support the U.S. Army Central Command theatre of operations. Following months of planning and training, the "Dixie Thunder" has arrived at Fort Bliss to demonstrate the brigade's readiness through a validation exercise led by the 177th Armored Brigade and their partners.

"There's a long connection between these two brigades, and this is a great opportunity to see how this relationship is progressing toward readiness," said McCaffrey.

The "Dixie Thunder" Bde. spent a month at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center conducting pre-mobilization training in preparation for their rotation to Fort Bliss. In February, the Mississippi Adjutant General, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Janson D. Boyles, expressed how the training in the Magnolia state is beneficial prior to the brigade's movement to Fort Bliss.

"The more 'reps' you can get, the more natural it comes to you when you really have to use those skills in a contentious environment," said Boyles during an interview with WDAM. "It's important to get the 'reps' here first and get comfortable with the systems, so when we get into our training at Fort Bliss, Texas, those things will come naturally."

The validation exercise has high visibility due in part to the mobilization being a first of its kind. "The 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team will be the first Army National Guard Armored Brigade Combat Team to train and deploy prepared for decisive action operations that include operating all along the continuum of conflict," said U.S. Army Col. Jack E. Vantress, commander, 177th Armored Brigade, in an interview with the Hattiesburg, American.

Vantress leads the First Army Observer Coach/Trainer partnership (Task Force 177) which encompasses multiple units from First Army Division East and Division West, as well as the 1st Cavalry Division.

"This is a collective effort between an outstanding group of professionals who are guided by doctrine, experience and leadership," added Vantress. "We are a unified partnership for mission success, and we're honored to advise and assist the 155ABCT as they make final preparations for their upcoming deployment."

The Citizen Soldiers begin their validation in April, and TFF 177 will work through May to OC/T all echelons of training for the 4,000-strong member brigade.

As the Army pushes forward with its focus on readiness at home stations and throughout deployments, McCaffrey viewed his initial visit to the exercise with extreme optimism. "I'm very impressed with what I've seen. The professionalism of the First Army Observer, Coaches and Trainers is the best I've ever seen. I think we're going to find this is going to be mutually beneficial and ultimately result in great readiness for the 155th ABCT as they prepare to deploy."