FT. HOOD, Texas – In late February, Active, Reserve and National Guard Soldiers came together for a culminating training event (CTE) in support of Operation Spartan Shield.
“We are a learning organization,” said Lt. Col. Larry Lee Leupold, Deputy G3 of Operations for the 35th Infantry Division. “We’re seeing position improvement and we’re seeing engaged service member Soldiers throughout that are energized, they’re excited to do this mission, and they want to do a great job.”
Leupold described the CTE as critical to “building that shared understanding across the staff, synchronizing, integrating, and then providing good products to our senior leaders so they can make decisions that help us prepare and assume the OSS mission.”
The 35th ID joined with two First Army units - the 120th Infantry Brigade and the 177th Armor Brigade - to learn in a “compressed realistic scenario of what they would see in theater,” explained Lt. Col. Jeffrey Ryan Petty of the 120th Infantry.
For Petty's battalion, helping units get read for Operation Spartan Shield is a significant mission. To prepare the Soldiers, Petty said, "We’ve written a number of different scenarios and orders and problems for staff to work through, in order to train that staff on those training objectives."
Sgt. Major Brian Kirkpatrick, 35th ID G3 operations sergeant major, added, "The CTE is a good opportunity to hone up the skills we have or to increase some skills that we don’t yet have,” and to experience “healthy stress in a supportive environment that fosters learning and improvement and not frustration.”
The CTE lasts for approximately two months, with an intensive block of training over 10 days. During that time, After Action Reviews (AAR) are completed and Soldiers are given an evaluation of their team’s strengths and weaknesses.
“Large unit training is difficult for anybody,” said First Army Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Mark Landes.
Soldiers come from different units and states, and many are meeting for the first time. It takes time for Soldiers to get to know each other, Landes said. Yet this initial challenge strengthens the overall team. Landed explained that Soldiers have to overcome these difficulties before they can “start really understanding how to work together.”
He went on to praise the various skills the 35th ID brings to the training.
“Some of these warrant officers and NCOs are supply chain managers – they actually do that in their civilian job,” Landes said. “They’re really, really good at that and were teaching all of us new ways to look at supply chain management. So this is always the fun of doing these types of rotations is you meet these experts that have this wealth of experience, diversity of thought. That really makes things better."
As expected, opportunities to improve and strengthen the force came to light during the training. Some Soldiers initially had “a lack of full understanding of the exercise” and needed advice, coaching, and feedback of the OC/T’s,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony Ashmore of the 177th Armor Brigade. As an example, at one point, two Soldiers were reassigned to other tasks, and the two Soldiers left in their section struggled to gain their footing.
“They lack experience, they lack know-how and the experience for that section,” Ashmore said, and that resulted in a lack of confidence. In response, he pivoted from observing to coaching, offering hands-on guidance to improve the Soldiers’ performance.
At the end of each day, OC/T's review their observation notes together as a complete war-fighting function, highlighting the opportunities and successes. Throughout the CTE, Soldiers across the division responded well to the feedback.
“Even today, the guys that went in this morning with that uncertainty of themselves and what was going on, with us sitting there and coaching them and talking through it, they were very receptive of the lessons that we were giving them,” Ashmore said.
During the final AAR, OC/T's provide “critiques on how they operate during the exercise, everything they did well and everything they could do better, in order to become that total package and lethal force,” Ashmore explained.
Communication and dissemination of information are also keys to success, Kirkpatrick said. He stressed the importance of the CTE, saying, “We have to be able to gather, compile, transform information into a product that ultimately will help the commanding general make the right decisions and save lives."
Landes said that when supporting Operation Spartan Shield, the 35th ID will have “a hard mission in front of them, and we expect them to do great things for the nation."