YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. — Billowing dust clouds, painted amber by a bloodshot sun, spun out across hills and valleys as multiple convoys of Humvees ushered in 44 teams of diverse, highly trained individuals on a three-week, self-sustained mission to test the far limits of their skills.
Advisors with the 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade embraced an isolated, barren landscape as they pushed themselves throughout through Exercise Vanguard Focus Sept. 8-28 at the Yakima Training Center, Washington.
The brigade took full advantage of YTC’s unique training environment, testing their mettle in austere, real-world, conditions as they coordinated support with simulated foreign security force partners. Lanes included live fires situations, attack aviation, unmanned aircraft systems, movement and maneuver as well as simulated media engagements, assessing the teams’ ability to respond to a wide range of challenges in real time across a sweeping 327,000 acres.
“We’re operating in the midst of some pretty dynamic conditions,” said Brig. Gen. Curtis D Taylor, 5th Security Forces Assistance Brigade Commander. “One of the big things that this brigade must be ready to do is to deploy at strategic distances… and be able to communicate, command and control in very ambiguous, uncertain environments, which we know we’re going to face in the Pacific region.”
Upon their arrival at YTC, teams jumped straight into the exercise, meeting with simulated U.S. Embassy Country Team key players in a simulated setting and establishing contact with their host country to key in to the political and sociological pulse of the local arena.
Being able to operate outside of a Joint Operations Area, away from larger military footprints many are used to operating in when overseas, is a crucial part of the SFAB mission, as they allow Advisors to “go out to the very forward edge of that competition and make key decisions on behalf of the U.S government in that environment,“ Taylor said.
Additionally, role players from throughout the Indo-Pacific Theater filled roles as advisors’ partner force commanders and staffs. “As our advisors meet with their counterparts, they have to work across a cultural barrier,” Taylor continued. “We’ve hired role-players from across different languages and cultures in the Pacific that help us replicate the unique aspects of the Indo-Pacific Theater, and [Advisors] have to work across that divide.”
As the exercise unfolded, Capt. Jonathan Beasley, a maneuver advisor team leader for Alpha Troop, 3rd Squadron, who helped execute the multiple iterations of one of the training lanes, made sure collaboration and communication between the SFAB and local security forces remained the crux of each event .
“We’re here to give them the most real and authentic lane that we can,” he said, noting that the foreign security force role-players and translators force advisors to develop real-world strategies to accomplish their mission while overcoming a language barrier - a skill that will prove absolutely vital once the teams deploy.
“Our charter is to work through security force assistance tasks with partner force nations in the [United States Indo-Pacific Command] Theater of Operations,” he explained. “We have to be good at moving quickly into another area, partnering with another army, and then really be able to build relationships that are long-standing.”
For many, the exercise was an eye-opening taste of what it will be like to work in a self-sustained team during deployments with the SFAB, removed from the immediate support they are typically accustomed to in their previous companies.
“We’re here to get our team synced,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Torres, a fires team advisor with Charlie Troop, 3rd Squadron, 5 SFAB, who was inspired to apply for a position as an advisor after training Iraqi troops as a cavalry scout while on deployment.
“We all come from different parts of the Army, so being able to work together and understand each other’s job is very beneficial, so when we do deploy we’re able to understand one another,” he said. “It’s definitely a challenge. There’s a lot to expect from yourself. You’re working in a small team, so you’re filling in a big role.”
Each individual on an advisory team comes from a different military occupational specialty, pooling their unique knowledge
and histories to provide foreign security force partners a wealth of experience to draw from.
During the exercise, Torres saw firsthand just how vital it is for each team member to work in sync with the others, saying that to truly become effective force multipliers and make a difference globally, advisors must learn to work alongside and rely on each other.
“It brought us out here to build that relationship between our team and to understand what it’s going to be like in [United States Indo-Pacific Command],” he said. “You need to be able to work with others and be cognizant that you may not know everything.”
According to Brig. Gen. Taylor, that’s exactly what this exercise was designed to hammer home.
“We’ve got a saying in the SFAB Community - One Captain, One Team, One Country - and that’s exactly the footprint that we’re looking for in the Pacific, he said. “What we want to get our teams used to is solving complex problems at the team level.”
Each member of the SFAB is a volunteer, having been rigorously vetted and identified as an expert in their field capable of working in a team under extreme and ever-shifting conditions to collectively overcome obstacles.
“When you take those kinds of people and you put them together out in a little village miles from nowhere with no signal, [giving them] a very ambiguous problem set - what you see is impressive,” he said. “You see leaders who can take hard situations, can adjust in environments that are complex and unanticipated, and make great decisions at points where their decisions have strategic impact on what the U.S. government does in a particular theater.”
“As we demonstrate that capability to our partners, what they realize is that we can be the partner of choice in a dangerous world,” he continued. “We need to engage in long-term strategic competition in order to preserve a free and open Pacific - that’s what our mission is.”
With the completion of Exercise Vanguard Focus, each team of advisors is certified and ready for a rotation through the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana to further validate the unit for future deployment in 2021.