Class 78 will be the last military transition team to graduate from Fort Riley.

The class, which started training in July, will graduate mid-September.

"The mission will then move to Fort Polk, La., under 162nd Infantry Brigade, who will pick up the mission and continue the training from that point on," said Lt. Col. Keith Casey, commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade. "Their first class really begins at the end of August."

Class 78, which has about 100 troops, has been training under 1st Brigade for a few weeks.

"We know we're Class 78, but we think they save the best for last," said Master Chief Mark Krause, team leader for a Navy team in the final class. "It's been a great experience. I think we've bonded well."

Krause said his team has enjoyed working with Soldiers from different forces.

"It's great to finally get the opportunity to work with Army, which we haven't before, or Air Force," Krause said. "It's great to bond with them. I'm very impressed with both of their groups. The Army folks have been great in teaching us all of the little things that you don't always hear in class, so they help bring us along."

The interaction between the forces has been a positive experience.

"Everyone is really melding in really well," Krause said. "We don't know if we're going to work together when we get overseas or not, but we all have the same mission going over there and helping Afghanistan."

While they are still in the early stages of training, Krause said they have already learned a lot.

"We've had some great things we've been able to do so far," Krause said. "We've enjoyed the language classes, the culture classes for the Afghans and meeting with the Afghan people here and talking with them. I think we've all found that very beneficial."

Krause thinks the training they have received will prepare them for going to Afghanistan.

"This has been an eye-opener for us on really what we're going to go do and what the possibilities may be out there," Krause said.

The class will graduate Sept. 15.

"It's been tiring," Casey said. "We work six days a week, but it's been fulfilling knowing that as the Army leans this direction in Iraq, and will soon lean this direction in Afghanistan, that we're producing the cutting edge of the future in both."

On Sept. 18, 1st Brigade officially will become a Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

"The major differences are that the brigade will get its own Special Troops Battalion, an increase in some specialty skills throughout the brigade, and for example, 1-5 Field Artillery will become a fires battalion directly in support of the brigade," he said.

THE MISSION

Military transition teams learn how to advise, teach and support Iraqi and Afghan security forces. Fort Riley took over the mission on June 1, 2006.

"From Class 10 until now, Class 78, we'll have trained about 15,691 Soldiers at Fort Riley just in 1st ID," said Casey, who has been involved with the mission since January 2006.

For the teams that went through training at Fort Riley, the 60 days at Camp Funston included weapons qualification, drivers training, medical Combat Life Saver training and some specialized training for the medics, logisticians, fire supporters, and for the military intelligence personnel, Casey said.

"They also do what is called combat advising, which is about 12 days long, where they learn to become an adviser. That's really the crux of what they're going to be when they go into theater."

During combat advising, they meet both with role players who are either replicating an Iraqi, a security force member, or an Afghan Army or police officer, depending on where they're going to go.

"They have a capstone exercise at the end that incorporates everything they've learned during those first eight weeks during that final week," Casey said. "And then we validate them; make sure they've met all requirements that are required to go into theater; and then the training requirement we established with the combat advise. Then we graduate them and they deploy."

GROWTH AT FORT RILEY

The training has improved exponentially while at Fort Riley, Casey said.

"I've watched it grow over time into what it is today, and by leaps and bounds, the mission evolved over time to where I think right now we're putting out an incredible product," Casey said. "They're head and shoulders over the initial classes."

Adviser training was added to the curriculum.

"When this mission first kicked off, the sole focus was training transition teams in the pre-deployment requirements," Casey said. "We have grown our adviser training from zero to 12 days. The sole focus has been to improve their ability to work with a coalition partner once they get into theater."

A program also was created that sent transition teams to combat training centers to train with a U.S. brigade.

"That does two things," Casey said. "First, it teaches the team how to interact with a brigade combat team. That's preparing them to go into their last big exercise before they deploy. Also, it trains that brigade commander and his or her staff on how to integrate a transition team with its operations."

A program of instruction also was written for the advisory and assistance brigade to train transition teams that will link up with the brigade.

"It's really focused on advisory skills and integration into both the brigade and into the Iraqi counterpart," Casey said.

To help support the teams' Families who are spread out across the country, a virtual Family readiness group, called the MiTTIN - the Military Transition Team Information Network - also was created. The MiTTIN has representatives in every state that work with units where they are located.

"It has been a very huge success," Casey said. "It's kept the Soldiers focused on their mission and not having to worry about supporting their Families while they are deployed."

THE FUTURE

When 1st Brigade was pulled offline in 2006, their sole focus became training transition teams.

"They're creating the same kind of concept - an 825-man brigade at Fort Polk, the 162nd - and their sole focus will be training transition teams for both Iraq and Afghanistan," Casey said.

Transition teams in Iraq will evolve into brigade combat team security force advisories.

"What that really means is that instead of being an 11-man team externally sourced throughout the Army coming to Fort Polk or Fort Riley to train, they'll be multiple two-man teams assigned to a brigade up to possibly 48 personnel," he said. "They'll do all their pre-deployment required training with their brigade, and they'll go to Fort Polk for the combat advisory piece."

There won't be any immediate changes with the transition teams that will be sent to Afghanistan, but Casey speculates that might change as Afghanistan evolves like Iraq has.

"It's just a matter of time," he said.