FORT GILLEM, Ga. (Army News Service, Aug. 2, 2007) - As the United States approaches its sixth year in the war on terrorism, America's Army Reserve Components continue to play a historic, unprecedented and vital role in the conflict. That trend continues as First Army gears up to prepare five National Guard Brigade Combat Teams for deployment in the coming months.

As part of that preparation, First Army hosted a proactive workshop at Fort Gillem to assess manning, equipment and training issues earlier in the process than ever before.

"This is a journey," said First Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Russel L. HonorAfA, "and, as in any journey, where you start has a direct relationship to where you end up. That's why we are here, at the beginning of the cycle to work out as many of the details as we can."

The two-day planning workshop was intended to highlight unit requirements and coordinate solutions early in the process, and develop pre and post-mobilization training schedules for the alerted BCTs.

The five National Guard BCTs in this rotation are the 27th BCT (New York), the 37th BCT (Ohio), the 39th BCT (Arkansas), the 45th BCT (Oklahoma) and the 76th BCT (Indiana).

Although First Army has mobilized, trained, equipped and deployed 11 BCTs since the start of the war, this next BCT rotation will be the first under a 12-month mobilization policy implemented by the Department of Defense earlier this year.

For previous BCTs, First Army conducted 100 percent of the theater and mission-specific training at the mobilization station.

That training took anywhere from three to five months, followed by a 12-month deployment in the combat zone. Under the new policy, the post-mobilization training prior to deployment and the "boots on the ground" time in theater must not exceed 12 months total.

To achieve the same level of readiness and still have adequate BOG time in theater, the new policy requires a significant amount of training and preparation to now be accomplished prior to mobilization, whereas under the previous guidance, the training was done during post-mobilization.

"There is a delicate balance at play here," Lt. Gen. HonorAfA said. "The bottom line is that the more pre-mobilization training that can be accomplished prior to the mobilization station, the better Soldiers will perform in theater, as well as giving those units the maximum amount of BOG time."

To facilitate this transition, First Army is actively engaged in sharing its proven training practices and procedures with the Army National Guard and Army Reserve headquarters responsible for pre-mobilization training. In addition to partnering with the units throughout the entire process, First Army has developed several new initiatives to include a web-based Commander's Planning Tool and the establishment of an Observer Controller/Trainer Academy at Camp Shelby, Miss.

The Commanders Planning Tool is a digital playbook that allows mobilized commanders to track and record their unit's readiness in a variety of areas, providing a common operating picture to all levels of command involved in a unit's preparation for deployment. The OC/T Academy trains and certifies Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers who will execute pre-mobilization training at their home station.

Lt. Gen. HonorAfA referred to the vital role that information sharing plays in addressing most of the transfer of training issues from post-mobilization to pre-mobilization. "We need to take those lines between components, that in the past have been dividing lines, and turn them into strong welds," he said. "Collaborating with the key planners and decision makers in your respective states is critical to success."

Maj. Gen. Raymond W. Carpenter, Special Assistant to the Director of the Army National Guard, reiterated Lt. Gen. HonorAfA's point by saying, "We are one team here, and we need to work closely together. This is definitely a cooperative effort, a partnership."

Maj. Gen. Robert Mixon, Jr., commanding general of Division West, First Army, and Fort Carson in Colorado, elaborated on the importance of good leadership: "If you build a solid command team and Soldiers who are confident in their abilities and their leadership, you will be able to adapt and adjust to change in theater."

Following the initial briefing, BCT commanders and their staffs assembled with First Army staff members in breakout sessions to deal with specific personnel, equipping and training issues. The final day, each BCT commander briefed the group on the readiness status of their unit.

"From what I observed, there were some very lively debates going on here. I believe we got a good start on addressing some of the challenges that we are facing, and we are going to work hard to resolve the issues you commanders have raised," Lt. Gen HonorAfA said in closing the workshop. "We clearly need to have continuing dialogue with Department of Army, National Guard Bureau and the U.S. Army Reserve Command... building confidence is the key to success."

(Steve Lambert serves with First Army Public Affairs.)