FORT POLK, La. — When then Capt. Jason Curl finished his tenure as a company commander in 2004, he told his branch he wanted to be assigned as an Observer Controller/Trainer with Joint Readiness Training Center Operations Group at the JRTC and Fort Polk.
“I’m from a small town, my kids were small and my extracurricular activity consisted mainly of pushing the kids on the swing in the playground,” Curl said. “I thought, ‘What could be better than walking through the piney woods of Louisiana training other infantry Soldiers?’”
As often happens, the Army had different plans for Curl in 2004. However, move ahead a little more than 15 years and Col. Jason Curl has finally found a home at the JRTC as the commander of Operations Group.
Curl said his last few assignments have prepared him for what he considers the best job in the Army. His most recent assignments include commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, an instructor at the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and command of a cavalry squadron in the 3rd BCT, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
“(Those assignments) give me a pretty good perspective on IBCTs (Infantry Brigade Combat Teams) and warfighting functions within an IBCT,” he said. “Our goal here will be to continue to train IBCTs and their enablers — the multi-functional aviation task force, the CSSBs (Combat Sustainment Support Battalions), the soft forces, so I think having that background will help.”
Curl said like with any new job there’s a learning curve, and there’s a lot to learn about JRTC Ops Gp.
“Within it (Ops Gp) are a lot of great capabilities that I’ve got to become more comfortable with,” he said. “I also need to make sure I know all of the different warfighting functions and doctrine to support them so that we can always be the experts that the rotational training unit deserves.”
Although he has passed through all of the Army’s Combat Training Centers as part of rotational units, Curl said the JRTC always impressed him as the best.
“I came through here as a cavalry squadron commander,” he said. “I’ve been to all the CTCs as a rotational training unit, and out of all of them I was really impressed with the professionalism of our OC/T team.”
Curl said he was surprised by the amount of work that has been done in the “Box” in the past couple of years since his last visit.
“There’s been a lot of work done out in the box just since my last rotation here, in terms of transforming it from the COIN (counterinsurgency) environment to the Decisive Action training environment,” he said. “And there have been many improvements to the facilities and structures on main post and North Fort, making it more functional for rotational training units going through.”
Curl said he doesn’t anticipate the growth in the Box to slow down anytime soon.
“I think we will build out the northern training area, and try to make it as continuous a fight as possible between the Fullerton Box all the way up to Peason Ridge,” he said. “I think there will be a lot more multi-domain operations here, a lot more electronic warfare, cyber, all those sorts of operations, and multi-domain maneuvers. I think we will start to incorporate those much more into CTC operations, not just here but throughout the Army.”
Along with infrastructure growth, Curl said JRTC Ops Gp would continue to offer world-class training to RTUs.
“We’re not going to let up on the RTUs, but at the same time, Operations Group has got to be focused 100% on making the rotational training unit better and building training readiness across the Army,” he said. “Our OC/Ts, the opposition force and all the support functions in Operations Group are going to focus on how we make units better. We’ll take those lessons learned and push them out to the rest of the Army so other units can benefit from the lessons learned here at JRTC.”
An old saying that has circulated between the Ops Gp faithful over the years is, “Make their (RTUs) worse combat day in the Box, not down range.” Curl has his own take on that adage.
“Our purpose is to help the rotational unit get better,” he said. “We’re going to make the easiest day here harder than the hardest day in combat. At the same time, we’re going to coach, teach and mentor our counterparts in the RTU, and together those things will make every unit that comes here better than when they started.”
Curl said the JRTC has evolved over the years to adapt to the Army’s current mission, and he sees no change in that.
“I think we will continue to evolve, and work on creative ways to make every rotation different and unique, and to push the RTU,” he said. “As far as the structure of Operations Group, I haven’t seen anything yet that needs to be fixed. But I think if we’re not creatively looking for ways to improve, especially in looking for ways to improve the rotations, then we’ll start to stagnate and eventually slip backwards.”
As Curl prepares for Rotation 20-09, his first as COG, he faces unique challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we’re in a very good position in terms of COVID,” he said. “We just had a VTC with the 2nd Brigade, 101st leadership going through all the protocols we’re going to have for COVID, and I think between testing all the rotational unit personnel, 100% testing in Operations Group and anyone who will come into contact with the RTU, creating a safety bubble around North Fort, having quarantine and isolation facilities, and the ability to test people with symptoms during the rotation, I think we’ll be able to have a safe, effective training rotation. Some things will be different, but for the most part, it will be almost like any other Decisive Action rotation, just with the COVID protocols.”
One of the keys to the success of Ops Gps is the talent of their OC/Ts. Curl said it’s important that the JRTC and Fort Polk continue to draw the best the Army has to offer so RTUs get the best training possible.
“The quality of life improvements on Fort Polk are great and I think it will help draw top talent to Operations Group,” he said. “That’s what our rotational training units deserve — the best the Army has to offer. Anything we can do to attract Families of the top talent is absolutely critical. It’s important that units across the Army have the benefit of the top talent in the Army, and the way to get that talent is make sure our quality of life is top notch.”
As he becomes acclimated to both the weather and living environment at the JRTC and Fort Polk, Curl said there is nowhere else he’d rather be.