JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - More than 200 Soldiers with the 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, South Dakota Army National Guard, spent two weeks training for war Sept. 25-Oct. 12 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Operating out of tents and tactical vans in the forests beneath Mount Rainier, the MEB honed its ability to command and control dozens of subordinate units in a simulated wartime scenario.

The MEB itself is an exercise in teamwork. Utilizing a wide array of military specialties, its mission in wartime is to enable, enhance and protect functional and operational movement through an assigned battlespace -- typically the area behind the front lines. The unit commands and controls whatever forces are necessary to accomplish that mission.

That means a lot of people, doing a lot of different jobs, have to coordinate efforts to keep roads maintained, enemies repelled, prisoners detained, civilians safe, supplies moving to the front line and humanitarian aid flowing -- all from a temporary headquarters that is designed to pack up, move and quickly redeploy as battle lines shift.

During a site visit, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Marlette, adjutant general of the South Dakota National Guard, said he was extremely impressed with the quality of the staff, the Soldiers and the work they were doing in the field.

"They're hitting on all cylinders," he said. "These are good Soldiers, and they have a good command team in place at all levels. I've been on and around a lot of staff, and I would put this staff up against any other I have seen."

While this is not the first time the MEB has participated in a warfighter exercise, it is the first chance they have had to operate using tactical vans to increase mobility when the headquarters needs to move. Previously they only used tents, some of which were time-consuming to set up and tear down.

Lt. Col. Charles Hauck, operations officer in charge for the MEB, said there had been some growing pains with the new setup.

"This is an improvement over the tent setup because we're more nimble and able to jump more quickly, but we aren't as comfortable in the vans as we were in the tents," he said.

He added that the unit did well with the exercise, using the new setup as a chance to get on the equipment and learn how to work individually and together in close quarters.

"We are a learning organization," Hauck said. "We can take a look at ourselves and how things are going and make adjustments as needed. We're allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, and this is the place you want to do it."

Marlette, who was the first commander of the MEB, said he saw a lot of training value in the exercise.

"These Soldiers are putting in a lot of time and effort, and at the end of the day, you want them to get something out of it," he said. "This training is giving them a good return on their investment."

Marlette said he visited the site so he could look Soldiers in the eye and thank them for their hard work.

"I want to let these Soldiers know we appreciate what they're doing, and not just at this exercise," Marlette said. "They're serving their country and I don't ever underestimate what a commitment that is -- they have other options and they choose to serve their country. Not many people can say that."