CAMP SHELBY, Miss. – Pershing Strike kicked off in July as the most sizable, large scale mobilization exercise to date at the historic Camp Shelby in Mississippi.
Col. Joy Alexander, Mobilization Force Generation Installation Officer in Charge, Mississippi National Guard, Joint Forces Headquarters, reflected on possible support capabilities that Pershing Strike brings to light.
“We are focused on capturing the realistic capacity during this exercise,” said Alexander. “We know our total capacity but what is the realistic capacity and what is the difference?”
U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers participated side by side during the 14-day exercise.
“We have to continue to practice this critical part of war fighting if we are going to be ready at the moment of crisis,” said Col. Richard Davis, Commander, 177th Armored Brigade, Camp Shelby, Mississippi. “We cannot fight America’s wars without the Guard and Reserve. None of us can do it alone.”
A variety of stressors can have an impact on mobilization. Billeting renovations and range maintenance are two factors that can influence capacity and the ability to process troops and get them ready for deployment.
“Storms come through and we are constantly repairing roofs. You can’t have Soldiers staying in barracks with leaking roofs. You will not have 100 percent available all the time. What is the actual bed space?” said Alexander.
Other factors, like cyber-attacks or loss of cell phone and e-mail service, can disrupt the mobilization process. This exercise provided an opportunity for observer coach/trainers to do their job.
“Our MFGI folks and our observer coach/trainers are here. This is our chance to exercise our folks on what we do and how we can get better for mobilization,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Jackson, Deputy Commanding General for Operations, First Army, Rock Island, Illinois. “When we are doing regular mobilization support we are not typically adding all the stressors. This is an opportunity to add those stressors and see what we can and cannot do. It’s the Soldier readiness process folks. How are we going to finish the SRP if the power goes down? We need to know what to do.”
But Pershing Strike is not only about considering the ‘what ifs’ during a mobilization. The exercise provided plenty of lanes training for Soldiers to practice important skills such as marksmanship.
“My job is to observe, coach and train,” said Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Oscar Torrez, OC/T, 3-348 Jaguar Battalion, Stark, Florida. “We are coaching the Soldiers through the new firing tables for the M-249 and M-4 because they are totally different.”
Despite the hot weather, Torrez stated that he truly enjoys his Army Reserve job.
“I’m in my 13th year. I keep serving in the Army Reserve because I enjoy it. I like being an OC/T because I like to help and support the Soldiers,” Torrez said.
The Army Reserve offers more than 120 career fields. Soldiers serving in the Army Reserve are co-workers, classmates, neighbors and friends which is possibly the greatest strength of the Army Reserve.
And there’s a technique to help Soldiers stay cool in the stifling Mississippi heat where temperatures can soar into the 90s.
Spc. Stephano Henry, 68W combat medic, assigned to the Army Reserve’s 810th Military Police Company, Tampa, Florida was counting to keep Soldiers safe.
“One, two, three, four, five,” says Henry as he counts up to 15 seconds.
After taking off their Army Combat Uniform coat, Soldier immersed their forearms in a cooler filled with ice water for the 15 second cool downs.
“This is so the Soldiers can cool themselves. The Soldiers sticks their arms in the ice immersion tank. It’s a pre-emptive step to prevent heat casualties,” said Henry. “Then they take some electrolyte powder and go into a cooling room. We haven’t had one heat casualty since we have been doing this.”
On the firing range, two Soldiers are working together firing the M-249 from the standing and prone positions.
“I like firing the M-249. It’s a good experience for anybody,” said Spc. Gabriel Serafin, 31 bravo, 810th MP Company. “We shoot as much as possible. Standing and firing is challenging but that gets easier with practice.”
The Soldier next to him was ready with more ammunition for reloading.
“Whenever he runs out of bullets, I get the ammunition belt ready to go and call out targets,” explained Pfc. Erick Baza, 31 Bravo, 810th MP Company.
While Soldiers enjoy time on the range firing weapons, it’s often not enough time.
“I think we need more shooting experiences for the Soldier so it’s not like they’re learning the weapon system all over again,” said Staff Sgt. Carlos Tolentino, Platoon Sergeant, 810th MP Company. “More shooting and live ammunition.”
“The value of Pershing Strike allows the rotational training unit and OC/Ts to access their capabilities and improve on what they are supposed to be doing, “said Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Slee, Command Sergeant Major, 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command who was there visiting his OC/Ts. “The most beneficial is the weapons training. It’s what causes the Soldier to stay in the Army. Doing the fun stuff.”