The citizen Soldiers of the 130th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, North Carolina National Guard, have a lot on their plates, from civilian careers to responding to emergencies in their state. But when they received the mission to help the Army Modernization Enterprise assess a future Army formation, they quickly prepared themselves.
The 130th MEB deployed to Fort Stewart, Georgia, in late March to replicate a Protection Brigade, one of the future Army formations being assessed during the U.S. Army Joint Modernization Command’s Joint Warfighting Assessment 22. The Protection Brigade is a future unit formation that supports the Penetration Division, also being assessed during JWA 22. The Penetration Division is being replicated by Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division on Fort Stewart. The Protection Brigade reduces the command and control demand on the Division rear command post and provides a headquarters and commander solely focused on protection warfighting across the area of operations.
Col. Jerry Baird, Jr., commander of the 130th MEB, said it took his Soldiers some quick education to pivot from their civilian jobs to helping the Army modernize, but that they were up for the challenge.
“Our goal is: No active-duty division is going to be waiting on us,” Baird said. “We are going to learn it as fast as we can. They have to understand that initially we will look more like a pontoon boat and less like a Jet ski, because we’re trying to catch up. But by the end of it, we’re able to hold our own, and I’d say we are an enabler. I’ve spoken to numerous 3rd Infantry Division senior leaders who have said, ‘You guys energize us.’”
Baird, who is the director of counter-drug efforts in North Carolina, says that energy comes from Soldiers who are smart, bring unique skills to the fight, and are excited to help the Army modernization effort.
“I’ve got Soldiers who are mayors, who are software experts, who are engineers, who are truck drivers, some own their own companies,” Baird said. “There’s a variety. You've got people that are in med school; I've got a dentist. That's the uniqueness of the guard.”
When the 130th MEB is in North Carolina, they are called upon to help in the event of emergencies and natural disasters.
“When the governor dials 911 in North Carolina, the phone rings at the MEB,” Baird said. “Because all the military police are there, and the engineers are there. All the things that state needs to get through whatever crisis they’re facing is in the MEB.”
Lt. Col. Frank Poovey, deputy brigade commander for the 130th MEB, said he was proud JMC and the Army called upon his unit to be part of a modernization experiment and provide feedback that will shape the future force.
“There's a lot of trust that's been put on this MEB and other reserve component units,” Poovey said. “I think that 25 years ago maybe that trust wasn't there. But over time, over many deployments, the Guard and Reserve units have proven their mettle on the battlefield. There was a time when you wouldn't see a reserve unit be in this position during such an important exercise. That the active-duty Army and those who are writing doctrine trust us to provide valued feedback … Quite frankly, it's an honor for us that we're trusted enough to know what we're talking about when we provide that feedback.”
Joint Warfighting Assessment 22 is part of Warfighter Exercise 22-04 (WFX 22-04). Providing critical feedback to inform the future force involves thinking differently about that exercise. Though, as Baird said, “The only way I want to lose is if we can’t win,” it’s important to test the limits of a Protection Brigade and be open to experimentation and making mistakes.
“There is an ability to make significant mistakes, but we have to record them,” Baird said. “Our job for the schoolhouse, for doctrine, is to make sure that everything we do is within the boundaries they give us for the Protection Brigade, and we recognize what we can and can’t do, and we document it. We’re going to get after the problem set.”
Balancing the demands of a training exercise and a modernization experiment isn’t easy, but it’s a challenge the 130th MEB is proud to take on, said Lt. Col. Brian Grey, response cell officer-in-charge for the 130th MEB.
“We take the training seriously,” Grey said. “But at the same time, we try to instill that this is a learning organization. We're going to make mistakes; we're going to fail at some things, and this is the right environment to do that. We can create some lessons learned, figure out what works, what doesn't work.”
Baird, Poovey and Grey all said they started learning lessons about the future Protection Brigade almost immediately, and they’ve worked to make sure they share those lessons with JMC to help modernize the Army. Maintenance of vehicles and sustainment are a couple of issues they’ve found may need to be looked at in a future Protection Brigade.
“The sustainment piece is definitely something that we'll learn a lot of lessons from, and we’ll need to better flesh out, because sustaining an MP battalion is dramatically different from sustaining an engineer battalion or sustaining chemical units and certainly very different from sustaining Air Defense Artillery units,” Grey said. “Each one of them has unique sustainment requirements. … Sustaining an ADA unit involves the maintenance of the vehicles, which are very different from MP vehicles, different armament, different weapon systems, and different ammunition. When you have a pure engineering unit or pure ADA unit, then it's easier to define what your sustainment requirements are, but when you have a Protection Brigade that has a lot of different force multipliers within it, then that means that you have a greater variety of different types of weapons systems, vehicles, equipment that have to be maintained and sustained.”
As leaders of the 130th MEB replicate a Protection Brigade, they are reading the news and seeing real-world examples of what a Protection Brigade would do for the Army, as it protects the force and also has to handle a holding area for both refugees and prisoners of war.
“That's something that is going to be a responsibility in any theater,” Poovey said. “I think we're seeing a lot of that in Ukraine right now. Most of the refugees are looking to leave the area, but you're going to have to account for what's on the battlefield, even though it's not a combat force. And I think the Protection Brigade accounts for that, and we’ve got the assets to do it.”
Spc. Julia Rojas of the 130th MEB is a pharmacy technician in her civilian career. She said combining her National Guard unit training with a modernization experiment had been rewarding.
“It’s been a great experience,” Rojas said. “It’s been a lot to learn. From the National Guard, I wouldn’t think we would get to do things like this. It’s good to see how it’s going to be in the future. Not everyone gets to experience what we’re experiencing.”
Though it was difficult, quick turnaround for the National Guard Soldiers to learn about the Protection Brigade and deploy to Fort Stewart to replicate it, they all were proud to be part of Joint Warfighting Assessment 22 and doing their part to assess the Army of the future.
“Both of my sons have chosen to put this uniform on, so I'm passionate about making sure we get it right, because my sons will be fighting wars this way for many years,” Baird said.
With the help of a dedicated group of citizen Soldiers, the Army has spent the past several weeks of the Joint Warfighting Assessment 22 learning lessons about the Protection Brigade and is well on its way toward getting it right for the Army of the future.