ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Crucial training opportunities for Army National Guard and Army Reserve units, and the assistance First Army can offer those units, was the focus of a Training Support and Synchronization Working Group (TSSWG), held here March 5-8.

The purpose was to identify how First Army can support Reserve Component training requirements for its partners. Further, the TSSWG aimed to synchronize training support resources needed to build and maintain readiness for the next two fiscal years, while also forecasting needs for the two fiscal years after that.

First Army Division East Chief of Staff, Col. Chris Hossfeld, who was attending his fourth TSSWG, further explained the Working Group's intent and focus.

"The purpose of this is to synchronize the directed events across all components for First Army. It's synchronizing the who, what, where, when, and how we are going to do it, to help build budgets, to help build exercise support requirements, and to work through the friction that is identified," he said. "Because invariably, First Army has more requirements levied on it than we have people. And this allowed us to synchronize those events and the resourcing that allows us to meet those requirements."

The tasks completed this week laid the groundwork for successful training, Hossfeld added. "The next real step is detailed briefings from each of the brigades on each of the exercises that they have been directed to support," he said. "Since this is now focused on Fiscal Year 2020 and 2021 events, we will have time for the units to go out and start developing the training objectives with the units that they are to be supporting. They understand how they're going to get those units to a better state of readiness."

As for the Reserve Component units that are being supported, Hossfeld said, "Most importantly for the partnered units, they now know who is going to support them and who they can lean on for the resident expertise to help them. That's all we're there to do, is to help them get the most readiness out of their organization."

The TSSWG built on Army Total Force Policy, which ensures that members and units in all components are trained and held to the same standard. One way this is achieved is through integrated training at the tactical level, which the TSSWG helps to facilitate.

Lt. Gen. Thomas James Jr., First Army Commanding General, told attendees that the TSSWG is one way First Army fulfills its mission of enabling total force readiness. That mission began more than 100 years ago, he noted.

"Gen. John Pershing…was the one who said, 'It is not about active, it is not about the National Guard, it is not about the Reserve. It is all about preparing the American citizen for the duties of war.' We will never fight a full-up war without the Reserve Component."

As such, a multi-year training cycle is required, and the TSSWG helps ensure that cycle is successfully completed.

With his engaging, optimistic style, James encouraged attendees to look ahead. "We have to understand our current state, visualize our future state, figure out how to manage resources, and apply leadership to get to that future state," he said. He assured attendees that First Army will help enable that: "Higher headquarters exists to look deep, prioritize, resource, and empower."

He also told them to feel emboldened to make key decisions: "Decisive to our operation is exercising the principles of mission command. We're talking about commanders' intent, mission-type orders, assuming appropriate risks, and seizing, maintaining, and exploiting the initiative with our partners in the Reserve Component. And you folks in here enable mission command."

The central goal of the Working Group was for First Army brigades to identify which partnered units they will provide training support for upcoming exercises. It's part of an ongoing cyclical approach that is meant to set both the training units and the observer coach/trainers up for success.

Kevin Elder, a Booz Allen contractor who works as an operations analyst for the 84th Training Command, said that at the beginning of those exercises, "O/CTs will link up with those units and get the lay of the land because they've done it for years and they have a good working relationship. That's the nice thing about First Army is that they maintain partner relationships."

Elder addressed how important those relationships are to ensuring successful training and mission accomplishment. "Resources these days are not plentiful so you have to do more with less and do the best with what you have," he said. "It's crucial that we're on the same sheet of music and that we are supporting these exercises as partners, and as a team, to support readiness."

The Working Group is all about determining the best fit, Elder added. "It's troop-to-task and unit-to-mission," he said. "First Army is an incredible partner with regard to these exercises. It's one team, one fight, and it's crucial that this type of partnership exists. As long as you're communicating with each other and as long as you're getting your thoughts across to them and they understand where you're coming from and they're doing the same to you, everything is good to go."

For Maj. Michael Caldwell, 177th Armored Brigade S4, the TSSWG helped lay the groundwork for future success.

"We're trying to get ahead and plan for exercises that are happening in Fiscal Year 2020. We've got two major ones that are coming up in that time frame and we want to make sure that the training aspect and the logistics piece that supports the training are taken care of," he said. "There are units that are going through training in FY20 that we partner with so we really want to make sure that we make it a first-rate training event.
We also want to ensure we are communicating our requirements to our higher headquarters."

It's all about finding the right match between unit and training event, Caldwell added. "Depending on where they are in their readiness cycle, they get an opportunity to do a different training event at a different level," he said. "It may be a digital exercise like a Warfighter where they're focusing on staff training, or it might be a full-blown CSTX or XCTC, which are major collective training events."

Caldwell and other First Army brigade representatives come to the TSSWG to see which available training events best match their partnered units' needs. The key is to make sure that partnered units are matched up with the exercises consistent with where the unit is at in its deployment readiness cycle.

"I will take the resources that I picked up from here and go back and do more in-depth planning and prepare for future exercises," Caldwell explained. "Long term, our partnered units will get a more refined timeline…and we can get everything locked in. We can tie up all the loose ends beforehand so everything will come together and they can have a successful exercise."

The TSSWG also serves to facilitate networking. "It was also a good opportunity to meet my counterparts at the different brigades and at First Army headquarters," Caldwell said. "That builds a stronger network. If I don't have the answer, now I have a face to call, either at First Army headquarters or at one of our sister brigades. We all kind of experience the same challenges and someone who may have been in a seat longer than I have might have the answer I'm looking for."

Besides networking and helping partnered units succeed, the TSSWG affords brigade representatives the chance to gain a better understanding of the process.

"Coming to the TSSWG, I always get some information that I didn't know before," Caldwell said. "For example, when we do offsite training events, we have to move our stuff there. And there's a nationwide move program that I wasn't aware of that I found out about here. We can leverage units in the Army Reserve…to get our stuff moved at no cost. We spend a lot of money on shipping items to and fro and now that I know about this resource, it will save us considerably."

James assured attendees that the hard work will pay off, now and later. "You can't wring your hands when you're rolling up your sleeves," he said. "This is what TSSWG is all about."