By Jim Hughes, Fort Rucker Public AffairsMarch 21, 2019
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group put itself to the test in early and mid-March with an exercise designed to severely stress its plans to go to war at the group level and then ask its battalions to execute them in a deployed environment.
"The intent of this exercise is to train the brigade staff and the battalions -- start at the brigade level for the first two weeks and what we're doing is digging into real world missions that exist today and we are tasked to support those plans," said Col. William B. Garber III, dual-hatted as the 164th TAOG and Air Traffic Services Command commander. "(The first week was) taking two of those plans and doing specific analysis on what it is we're supposed to do, what we're tasked to do and how are we best going to do it."
Using the military decision making process, the TAOG focused on the mission analysis phase and the course of action development phase. After accomplishing those tasks, the brigade passed its plan down to the battalions, the 1-58th Airfield Operations Battalion and the 3-58th AOB, to execute at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, respectively.
The two battalions took their equipment to McCoy and Bragg where they carried out their airfield management and air traffic control missions. During the first part of the exercise, the 1-58th convoyed to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, to get some joint training with the Air Force and move its equipment via C-17 to Wisconsin, Garber said.
"They did an excellent job and got a first time go. For a lot of them, this will be their first C-17 flight and load, so I'm excited for some of the junior Soldiers to get that experience," the commander said, adding that the exercise involved almost all of the members of the TAOG.
But that doesn't mean the entire exercise went perfectly, Garber said, which is a good thing.
"The great thing about exercises is you design them to stress your staff to expose your weaknesses, so I will tell you that it has gone well," he said. "That said, we've exposed some weaknesses, which is a good thing -- you want to do that in peace so you can fix them before you go to war."
To help find those weaknesses, the TAOG asked the Army's other TAOG, the Louisiana National Guard's 204th TAOG to visit and provide an external evaluation, Garber added.
"Where we have had a few hiccups, we've been happy to find them and we have learned a great deal from having others come in and examine our preparation," the colonel said, adding that the unit also used the Logistics Readiness Center for another external evaluation. "That really helps us look closely at whether we have any deficiencies. So, from that perspective, I'm very happy with what we're doing. There are some days that we find some chinks in our armor, but we're repairing them so we can be better prepared to deploy."
And it's been a while since the TAOG put itself to the test to this extent, Garber said.
"We've conducted various small exercises, but this is the first one in about 6 years that we've had a chance to get out of here far away, and use a C-17 and a C-130 to deploy us on an emergency deployment," he said. "It's a good time to have an exercise -- if we don't practice it often, it atrophies quickly.
"I'm excited to have a chance to do it and none of the folks on active duty here, E-5s and below, have ever had the chance to go out and do this level of exercise-- the seniors have because they've been around a while, but I can't think of any E-5s or below that have had a chance to do this yet. Very happy to expose them to what's about to happen."
And while having a successful exercise helps put leadership minds at ease and instill confidence in the Soldiers carrying out the plans, the cycle never ends, said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael V. Telesco II, 164th TAOG command sergeant major.
"As soon as you're comfortable, all new people will come in, people will leave, you're always doing it," he said.
Overall, the commander and CSM are happy with the performance of the unit.
"Our young Soldiers are well trained out of advanced individual training," Telesco said. "They're young and there's a lot of stuff they haven't seen, but our stressing them is causing them to learn.
"We're getting them into the motor pools, getting them on vehicles -- some of these Soldier a year ago didn't even have a driver's license," he added. "So, their first 500 miles in a vehicle are in a military vehicle that is three times the size of a normal truck. And they're pulling it off -- it's fun."
While reports are yet to come in on exactly how much fun the unit's Soldiers are having carrying out their mission in the northern climes of Wisconsin, Garber is also pleased with the efforts being put forth to test the units as a whole.
"We're lucky the airfields are cleared so aircraft can land because just (in late February-early March) they were iced over and closed," the colonel said. "(The Soldiers will) be sleeping out there and working with snow and ice on the ground, so I'm actually excited because that is good Army training and I think it will also help them get more comfortable with the gear that we provide them that down here in Alabama we don't get to use all the time."