By W. Wayne MarlowJune 26, 2018
ORCHARD COMBAT TRAINING CENTER, Idaho - If Army units were sports teams, an Exportable Combat Training Capability exercise would be their quarterfinals, coming before a training center rotation, which is followed by a deployment. Members of the Idaho Army National Guard's 116th Calvary Brigade Combat Team are having their quarterfinal here this month. Helping them in this crucial stage of the readiness cycle are Observer Coach/Trainers, or OC/T's of First Army Division West's 189th Combined Arms Training Brigade.
"The XCTC is designed to train platoon and company levels on their mission essential tasks list to accomplish their mission," explained Lt. Col. David Lowber, commander of the 1-356th Logistical Support Battalion, which is helping with logistical support during the rotation. "The 189th provides the observer coach/trainers that create the lanes, that put the scenarios together, so that the training unit can demonstrate their ability. The lanes are custom-made to do what that unit or section does and they exercise the specific tasks that are essential for them to accomplish their mission."
It is during those lanes and scenarios where 116th Cav. Bde. Cbt. Team Soldiers drill down on the minute components of their role, with input from First Army members.
"There's a master plan based on the types of lanes the unit will go through," said Capt. Brian Everman, a logistics officer with the 1-356th. "The 189th has Soldiers that embed with the unit to see how they are doing. They evaluate based on a specific task, condition, and standard, and provide them with written feedback to the unit and unit commander, so they can see where they are at what areas they need to focus on."
For one of those OC/Ts, the key is helping ensure 116th Cav. Bde. Cbt. Team Soldiers are firmly grounded in the basics.
"That's the biggest thing we're working on," said Sgt. 1st Class Shane Elder, the 189th Brigade medic. "We've seen that as medics get to their unit, they get tunnel vision and get away from basic techniques and guidelines. So we want to ensure that the medics are masters in their craft and do the simple things over and over. This is the foundation, then we start building their house. We can't have failure in this line of work."
For an OC/T to be able to impart this type of knowledge, it is crucial they build trust.
"The biggest thing as an OC/T is getting the training unit to understand that we're not an enemy out to make them look bad," Elder said. "Once a positive relationship is established, they understand that we are part of the same team. We want them to succeed. We want our warfighters to come home safely. Once we are embraced by the team, we start 14 days from where we go from day one, seeing how they set up, until the end of the exercise, where we see improvements that are pretty amazing."
One of the keys to a successful rotation, Elder continued, is consistent and regimented training.
"We build repetition, we build routine, so when the real deal comes, they're ready," he said. "We also concentrate on the core things we do in the Army. We have to have Standard Operating Procedures, we have to have a standard so that everyone knows what right works like. And once we do that, we can build on it."
The days are long and taxing, but that helps breed further success. "We have them go through tough, repetitive rehearsals," Elder said. "We get a little stress on them. If we just sat around a table and asked, 'What happens if someone has an amputation,' they can talk you through it beautifully. But they have to go through the training over and over and experience some of that stress so they become proficient and when it comes time to do if for real, they're ready to save lives."
An XCTC rotation can also serve to build cohesion and teamwork within a unit. "It's good for developing your staff and developing your leaders," Lowber said. "You are testing them under pressure and evaluating how they perform. Ultimately, what you're trying to test is their troop leading procedures and how they're going to handle a stressful environment."
Everman stressed that attention to the tiniest detail is crucial to success. "For every METL component the unit is doing, there are specific steps and measures that should be accomplished," he said. "There are a checklist of metrics where they are a go or a no-go, and it's very detailed. It sets forth a list of what they need to work on in the next year."
Soldiers of the 116th Cav. Bde. Cbt. Team have been receptive to First Army's input and the units have fostered a strong working relationship, according to Maj. Richard Floer, executive officer of the 2-358th Armor Battalion, 189th CATB.
"We've seen improvement in them every day," he said. "They are very motivated and anxious to learn more. Putting small pieces together into a higher-echelon training is always a challenge and they've done well at that."
For OC/Ts to be ready to perform their mission, Floer said the keys are "preparation and being flexible and managing your time. You have to be knowledgeable on the doctrine so that you can evaluate the unit honestly and give the feedback."
That preparation and focus by both the training unit and evaluators paid off.
"It went well," said Staff Sgt. David Lewis, a signal specialist with the 116th Brigade Engineer Battalion. "We wanted to get our headquarters right, to work out some bugs, and we did that. We streamlined some of our processes and everyone got more familiar with their role. That's what a good training exercise will do."