GRAYLING, Mich. - The Michigan National Guard, active and reserve components of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force and coalition partners from Great Britain, Lithuania and Latvia met Nov. 4-8 to begin planning the joint Northern Strike 2020 exercise.

More than 200 people convened at Camp Grayling for the initial planning conference (IPC), which followed Northern Strike 2019 in July and August. More than 6,000 people from 10 countries and 22 states participated in that, the Defense Department's largest joint, reserve-component exercise of the year. The event is hosted annually at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center and over the skies of northern Michigan and Lake Huron.

"With over 500 frequencies used in last year's exercise, it's important to solidify our signals plan," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Donald Jenkins, Northern Strike's signal planner. "The IPC puts together workgroups, which enable us to get on the same page with our communication systems."

Northern Strike is a Joint National Training Center accredited exercise, sponsored by the National Guard Bureau, to provide opportunities for all military branches to increase proficiency integrating mission command, air, sea and ground maneuvers.

With so many participants from across the world and different branches of the military, Northern Strike's combined-arms training venue sets it apart as one of the best opportunities for warfighting readiness and interoperability.

The exercise is modeled after a realistic combat scenario.

Sitting at the front of a capacity crowd of Northern Strike planners, a three-soldier contingent from Lithuania eagerly listened to descriptions of the planned scenario for next year: a simulated war between the fictional countries of Gorgas and Donovia.

"We are grateful to have you here," said Col. Bart Verbanic, the exercise officer in charge, as he shook a Lithuanian soldier's hand. "Planning for an event of this magnitude requires the assistance of all participants, including our multinational partners."

Troops from Latvia have participated in several Northern Strike exercises over the years, sending two soldiers to join this year's IPC. For Northern Strike 20, they will send Special Forces elements.

For 25 years, Latvia has partnered with the Michigan National Guard under the U.S. National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program (SPP).

Maj. Nigel Pratt, quartermaster, and his executive officer, Matt Bard, of 4th Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, based in York, England, also participated in the IPC.

"We are excited to be part of this planning conference," said Pratt. "We will bring some infantrymen to the exercise next year, and we're here to make the most of their training by planning a challenging yet rewarding exercise at Northern Strike 20."

Following an initial welcome address by Verbanic, IPC participants were briefed on the event scenario. Topics included safety, available medical resources and other issues meant to maximize the integration of aviation, ground and sea assets into their planning.

After lunch, participants separated into workgroups focused on logistics, signal, medical and operations planning. The workgroups create a master scenario event list that identifies, synchronizes and scripts tactical events into an overarching combat scenario.

A separate air component-focused IPC was planned via teleconference Nov. 13.

Projected dates for Northern Strike 2020 are July 18--Aug. 1.

"I've been working on Northern Strike in some capacity since 2013," added Verbanic. "Every year, we want the next one to be the best exercise yet. That will take a significant amount of time and planning, which is why we're here."