FORT POLK, La. -- The mission of training combat advisors across the Army now falls on the shoulders of the 162nd Infantry Brigade at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk. The brigade, totaling just over 800 personnel, will train every combat advisor deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan, whether active, Guard or Reserve component, in addition to Navy and Air Force combat advisors.
The combat advisor mission here signifies a strategic shift in Army thinking. "The most important component in (overseas contingency operations) is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we enable and empower our partners to defend and govern their own countries," said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at a 2007 Association of the United States Army conference.
The Army, recognizing the need for combat advisors in Iraq and Afghanistan, instituted a centralized training program for military transition teams, now called combat advisors, at Fort Riley, Kan., in 2006. In October of that year, the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division was selected to spearhead this mission.
Tackling the mission was no small task. There was no standard doctrine for training combat advisors, and at the beginning, much of the mission was developed as the service members underwent training. Col. Jeffrey Ingram, the brigade's commander when it accepted the mission, said that it was, "like trying to build an airplane while in flight."
Despite the challenges, 1st Bde managed to develop a cohesive training program that met the needs of combat advisors and their mission in both theaters. From October of 2006 until September of 2009, the brigade was responsible for training more than 15,000 combat advisors from all three components of the Army, including Air Force and Navy combat advisors.
In March 2008, Fort Polk was notified it would be taking over the mission of training Army, Navy and Air Force combat advisors. The newly-formed 162nd Inf Bde would have less than a year to prepare for the mission before the arrival of the first combat advisors on Aug. 29.
The 162nd, officially activated May 1, would have the same amount of cadre as 1st Bde, 1st Inf Div. The brigade, as of Sept. 9, was manned to 97 percent, with more than 70 percent of its Soldiers having combat experience, and 19 percent of the cadre having combat advisor experience. To help ease the burden of transition, more than 100 Soldiers from 1st Bde, 1st Inf Div at Fort Riley were assigned to the 162nd.
Much like the Soldiers from Fort Riley sent to Fort Polk, most of the equipment used to train combat advisors has been sent as well. More than 12,000 pieces of equipment, ranging from vehicles to weapons to night vision devices, were transferred or are in transit. These eight force packages started arriving in April and the last one will arrive in November.
Upon receipt of the mission, the construction of facilities began on North Fort Polk. The Army spent about $168 million on unit headquarters, barracks and other amenities that are essential to the operation of the training mission.
In addition to personnel trained at Fort Polk, the 162nd is responsible for training combat advisors that are organic to their deploying brigades. Mobile teams from the 162nd will be responsible for training active-duty Soldiers at their brigade's home station. This training will take place in three phases prior to deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Given the unique and challenging nature of developing combat advisors, the mission at Fort Polk will be enduring. Fort Polk is the home of JRTC and a center of excellence for security force assistance and combat advisor training. The amount of training expertise and excellence available at the installation will shape the combat advisor mission for many years to come.