By Sgt. 1st Class Brent PowellSeptember 26, 2019
LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. -- More than 2000 Army Reserve Soldiers recently spent four-days conducting a variety of training simultaneously at locations across the nation as part of an ambitious brigade level field training exercise (FTX) hosted by the 209th Regional Support Group, 76th Operational Response Command.
This was the first time a brigade sized unit has conducted a FTX of this type with its four battalions and 15 companies located in multiple states and numerous locations from California to Wisconsin conducting field training at the same time.
"The idea behind this FTX is that the Army and the Army Reserve are really trying to get back to field craft as part of the changing world we live in," said Col. Paul V. Miller, commander, 209th RSG, 76th ORC. "For the past 18-years we have been deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq living off of Forward Operating Bases and Combat Outposts and we've gotten away from going to the field. So, the idea was to get my Soldiers back to the field, the real field, which meant putting up tents, putting up camouflage nets and practicing their fieldcraft. I wanted everyone to get back to practicing fieldcraft and do it at the same time."
In addition to focusing on fieldcraft, units were given the opportunity to train on their specific needs. "The way the exercise was designed was we let the companies decide their own training in conjunction with their battalions," he said. "We didn't try and dictate to them what they needed to train on whether it be chemical tasks, weapons qualification or their mission essential tasks, but they had to brief us prior to the exercise so we knew what their training plan was."
Over the course of four-days, the Soldiers were able to conducting various training ranging from establishing defensive perimeters, evaluating casualties, conducting individual weapons qualifications, setting up tents, conducting chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear operations, and conducting convoys, to foot patrols and donning their chemical protective gear to go through a gas chamber.
Although there was a lot of different unit training going on, Miller emphasized that this exercise was ultimately about building and honing basic Soldier skills. "This is about doing what the Army has always done and that is go out and conduct training in the field, set up, communicate, break everything down, move and set up again in order to increase our survivability on the battlefield. We have to be mobile to survive. That's really what this is all about, using all of those Soldier skills that make up that process."
Fieldcraft and basic soldiering skills were the focus of the exercise, but Miller also had other goals as well. "The goals were for everyone to safely deploy, conduct field operations, have one common operational picture, and conduct an update brief for the exercise, then safely redeploy. It was also important that our chemical companies got to do chemical related training in addition to working on their basic Soldier skills. We were able to do that, and also engage with our senior leaders."
One of the senior leaders who witnessed the historic exercise first hand was Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Doug Cherry, deputy commanding general, 76th ORC. "This FTX was hugely important because it gave our Soldiers the opportunity to exercise their field craft," he said. "We saw Soldiers perform a task in a classroom, and thought they knew it, but they couldn't actually execute that task in the field. After multiple times it started to sink in, but they need more repetitions, and that's something we lack sometimes is the opportunity to get enough repetitions in. So forcing these Soldiers out of the classrooms, out of the reserve centers, into the field, into the real world, gives them that hands-on training and repetitions they need. At the unit level that's important, but at the staff level, it's the same thing. When all you do is build an order and have an evaluator tell you if the order is good or not, that's really not valuable training. It's just like a Soldier sitting in a classroom trying to learn how to conduct a patrol. When the brigade has engaged battalions, and the battalions have engaged companies and they are all trying to execute missions at the same time, the commanders can see the failures and successes first hand and in real time. That is valuable training and a great learning process."
Although this was the first time a brigade had conducted this type of FTX, and there were plenty of challenges and obstacles along the way, Miller said overall it was a success.
"I think it was successful because we got to accomplish our objectives of field craft, mission command and good Army training. All three things were nested together, and we were able to do all of those. Every unit is at a different level and has different training objectives, but by the end of the exercise they were all able to get out there in the field environment and meet those objectives. We had some challenges, but at the end of the day we achieved our training objectives, units performed well, and I know our Soldiers enjoyed being in the field."
Miller wasn't the only one who thought the unique training exercise was worthwhile. "This was an extremely ambitious project ran by the 209th, and while not every company's training objectives were met, what the staffs of the brigade and battalions learned by doing this was invaluable," said Cherry. "I would like to see this happen more often. Having a brigade do this more than once a year is probably not reasonable, but the battalions learned that they can do this type of thing. This is the only real way to train the staffs, because it provides immediate feedback. It's not some evaluator telling them, hey you did this right, you did this wrong, they see it happening first hand when a subordinate unit fails or succeeds on something they worked on."
With the successful exercise now behind them, the 209th RSG is now planning on future events. "We've already started talking about doing this again next year," said Miller. "I think it was just good to have everyone out at one time. It took a lot of effort, but I think it's very worthwhile to get out and do this as a brigade. It's a great training opportunity, and there were a lot of mission command lessons that were happening throughout this entire process from planning to execution to the after action review process. Ultimately, I see this as being the very beginning of the process of getting back to fieldcraft. I think it set us up for success going into the new fiscal year, and this type of training is something we are going to continue to do in the future."
For those units thinking about following in the 209th RSGs footsteps, Miller shared some advice. "I would start the planning process early and ensure you get the battalion training objectives built into your plan ahead of time and ensure there is a good collaborative discussion so that you build an exercise that provides worthwhile training for your team."