By Levi Spellman, 214th Fires Brigade, Fort Sill, Okla.April 30, 2010
FORT SILL, Okla. - Field training exercises, by design, serve as a diagnostic tool for leaders to assess the competence and capabilities of their organization and the individuals who comprise it. During the 214th Fires Brigade's annual 10 day FTX in April, those tests stressed the full spectrum of its operations.
Soldiers from each battalion trained on individual, team, unit, and battalion-level tasks. But, the current deployment cycles of Operation Iraqi Freedom have left some of the battalions at an operational disadvantage for the FTX. In order to achieve the fullest extent of the training, these units had to be absorbed into the larger-scale training events by other battalions. In this, Leaders saw an opportunity to test teamwork between various groups with no previous interaction.
When the 168th Brigade Support Battalion decided to conduct vehicle recovery training exercises following a roll-over incident, other units were quick to join in on the action, said Sgt. Preston Charles, the non-commissioned officer in charge of service and recovery for the 168th BSB.
As the service and recovery NCOIC for his battalion, Charles coordinated with Staff Sgt. John M. Bickley, the maintenance platoon sergeant for the 696th Forward Support Company, to plan and organize the event, which included recovery of vehicles that have rolled over or become stuck in mud, vehicles which have become partially submerged in water, and tracked vehicles.
However, most of the recovery missions Bickley has seen during his deployments revolve around mechanical issues, rather than operator error.
"Proper [preventative maintenance checks and services] on your vehicles is probably one of the key things," he said, "because nine-times-out-of-10 you're not going to run your truck into a mud puddle and get stuck."
Elsewhere, Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery Regiment and the 578th Forward Support Company engaged in counter IED training. The remaining support companies conducted refueling operations with A Company, 168th BSB, and urban squad tactics with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery.
During the refueling operation, Spc. Norman Cummins explained the purpose of moving fuel from one tanker to another. Though the heavy expanded mobility tactical truck, or HEMMT, is aptly named for the superior mobility that allows it to reach units on the front lines, its utility as a refueling device is limited by its 2,500 gallon capacity, said Cummins. It then becomes necessary to refuel the refuelers, he added.
For those units acting in a front-line capacity, Cpt. Frank D. Messina, the commander of HHB, 2nd-4th FA, acted as an observer controller during the urban tactical scenario. The participating Soldiers, he believes, performed well.
"They got their mission and were able to develop their course of action pretty fast," he said. "The NCOs really enforced pre-combat checks, pre-combat inspections, but really it was a lot of teamwork."
The selfless nature required for effective teamwork is a trait Messina believes is common in modern Soldiers, specifically the teams he observed during the exercise.
"They're not pretentious. They're not self-centered," he said. "They're more about taking care of their buddy to the right and to the left."
As the FTX climaxes over the course of its final week, broader-scaled operations will require increased levels of coordination and teamwork, culminating in brigade-wide live-fire exercises, something Messina thinks the Soldiers are ready to handle.
"The Army Values give them a foundation, but their strength is in the teams they form," he said.