By Maj. Richard Foote (1st BCT, 82nd Airborne Division)April 8, 2019
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- The 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division conducted company-level Combined-Arms Live-Fire Exercises (CALFEX) on Observation Point 13 (OP 13) from March 25 to April 6.
The CALFEX validates the ability of Company Commanders to plan and conduct a tactically sound, safe and realistic live fire, applying the principles of maneuver tactics within a combat environment.
"The CALFEX is meant to help learn to control multiple formations, multiple assets in support of those formations, to synchronize them in time and space," stated Col. Andrew Saslav, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. "To that extent I think this has done a great job in preparing our platoon and company leadership for combined arms operations."
Over the course of two weeks, every 1st Brigade infantry company took the opportunity to work, day and night, to plan and execute missions which required coordinated support from engineer, artillery and aviation assets, allowing Paratroopers on the ground to maneuver to and seize their objectives.
"CALFEX was a great time to synchronize assets, utilize enablers and defeat a near-peer threat postured in an Area Defense," said Capt. George Fletcher, commander of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. "Live Fires force the assaulting element to crosstalk with the support by fire, then close with and destroy the enemy."
Combat engineer platoon members, known as Sappers, played an integral role in the maneuver space, providing breaching capabilities to the ground forces. Sappers breached wire obstacles with Brashier charges and blew through doors with Flex Linear and Water Impulse charges, allowing the infantry platoons to maintain their tempo.
"Reducing enemy obstacles played a vital role to the Company's success as the enemy attempted to retain the objective," added Fletcher, recognizing the importance of the enabler-unit Paratroopers.
3-319 Airborne Field Artillery Regiment provided supporting fires with 105mm and 155mm howitzers, shooting planned targets and responding to calls for fire from the companies on the ground. Incorporating fires is critical to ground operations, from preparatory fires as forces move toward an objective to engaging targets of opportunity that present themselves during the fight.
The CALFEX was also supported by aviation elements of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade. AH-64 Apaches provided fires to ground units moving against objectives, and HH-60s performed air medevac missions with combat medics from the infantry companies and from the Charlie Medical Company of the 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion.
Coordinating aircraft and fires is no easy task, as Paratroopers must be skilled at talking attack pilots onto targets and rescue pilots onto Landing Zones with proper patient information, as well as synchronizing artillery fires for airspace de-confliction, in order to keep the battle moving forward safely and evacuating casualties efficiently.
"The ability for my Platoon Leaders to synchronize and integrate multiple assets both stressed their abilities to manage multiple tasks simultaneously and to lead their formations effectively," lauded Capt. David Adamic, commander of Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. "The amount of growth and organizational learning that occurred was readily apparent as each subsequent iteration was better than the last."
Every iteration was followed by an After-Action Review, with Observer/Controllers giving feedback to the companies, which allowed teams to both learn from mistakes and determine successful tactics to sustain. These AARs were crucial, as companies all showed constant improvement throughout the exercise.
"It's clear that we are a learning organization," said Saslav. "I think it's clear, across the board, that our companies and our platoons have shown that they're learning organizations."
The Brigade now quickly transitions to preparations for their Devil Storm II exercise in late April, then for a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La. in late July.