Falls Church, Va. -- The transition of healthcare administration for military medical treatment facilities to the Defense Health Agency has led to a change in focus for Army Medicine. The readiness of Soldiers and ensuring a ready medical force is the priority. To meet this aim, the Troop Command at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) recently conducted a first-ever field training exercise to support Army Medicine’s “Pivot to Readiness.”
The brigade recently conducted a field training exercise, which took place at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. The goal of the training was to promote readiness. The exercise required four months of planning, rehearsals of concept, one day of pre-execution preparation, four days of training, and two days of recovery operations.
More than 120 Soldiers got back to “basic Army warrior tasks and battle drills,” said Maj. Shula Clark, Brigade Executive Officer for the Troop Command at WRNMMC. The training included M4 and M17 weapons qualification; day-night land navigation; chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosives; survival; evacuation; and tactical combat casualty care.
“It is important,” said Clark, that “Soldiers understand a Pivot to Readiness does not mean we abandon patient care” but instead “requires us to become creative and adaptive to ensure tactical and technically proficiency training within a Tables of Distribution and Allowances (TDA) environment. As we transition away from the business of healthcare, refocusing our efforts as a brigade requires the unit to pivot its priorities to focus on individual readiness.”
“It was also important because this is ‘not your ordinary troop command’,” said Col. Sabrina Thweatt, Troop Commander at WRNMMC.
Readiness, Clark said, “requires innovation, transformative leadership, a delicate balance, planning and collaboration to ensure we are providing Soldiers with the opportunity to train while continuing to sustain and maintain our patient care mission within the DHA facilities.”
The field training exercise was valuable because it incorporated leader development and training from planning through recovery. Understanding the current environment required leaders to remain extremely flexible and creative with the resources need to execute tough realistic training.
Historically, Walter Reed has focused on patient care. This training allowed service members to leave the hospital and use basic equipment to promote individual readiness. The exercise also promoted esprit de corp.
“Our goals were accomplished because the Soldiers received tough realistic training in an environment outside of their comfort zone,” said Clark. They were provided with extended opportunities to become familiar with their weapons while simultaneously completing both Individual Critical Task Lists and also warrior task and battle drills.
Because the commander’s intent and vision were clearly communicated, an understanding and a collaborative effort existed between the staff and the command team. This exercise was valuable because it exceeded not only the commander’s expectations but also that of the Soldiers who participated.
The field training exercise was a true demonstration of mission command where leaders, at every echelon, exercised troop leading procedures. Conducting missions that require Soldiers to collect, wear and use their basic equipment builds muscle memory, Clark said. The Soldiers trained now have a better understanding of what it means to deploy.
“Creating a culture of excellence,” said Thweatt, “requires the [brigade] to do routine things well.”
“Many of our younger Soldiers are directly from Advanced Individual Training, and many were born after 9/11,” Clark said. “They did not experience the rapid deployments, and for many this is their first assignment. Exposing these Soldiers to the rigors of combat in a simulated environment provides them with the basic knowledge needed to understand what is required in upcoming conflicts and missions.”
Planning a field training exercise from a TDA facility can prove challenging. Understanding limitations such as military-issued equipment, weapons, and vehicles requires you to plan and implement mitigating strategies. These limitations required creating relationships with other local units to borrow weapons and co-use ranges and vehicles. Building and maintaining these positive relationships with other units are vital to mission success.
The brigade will conduct this exercise semiannually. The team recently completed two leader recons to Regional Training Sites-Medical at Fort Gordon and Fort McCoy to begin initial planning for their next training event.