LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Sept. 29, 2011) -- Fingers tapped away furiously on computer keyboards while friendly and mock enemy maneuver graphics flashed across large screens as National Guardsmen from Kansas participated in a 'first-of-its-kind' exercise designed to test the full range of their combat leadership and Soldier skills.

More than 350 Soldiers from the Kansas Army National Guard's 35th Infantry Division headquarters participated in a newly-developed seven-day full-spectrum simulations exercise Sept. 20-26.

Advisors from First Army, headquartered at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill., were on hand to ensure the exercise remained focused on preparing the 35th ID for potential Contingency Expeditionary Force, or CFF, missions. Over the past few years, the majority of reserve-component training was focused exclusively on preparing the units for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan for Operations New Dawn and Enduring Freedom.

Exercise director and commander of First Army Division East, Maj. Gen. Kevin R. Wendel, said the new FSX allows the command to execute the full range of military operations in a realistic, joint, interagency and coalition environment.

"As the exercise director, my job is to help the division achieve their training objectives and to influence and shape the exercise by working with the team of senior mentors, trainers and support teams," he explained.

First Army oversaw the development of the new simulations training exercise as part of its mission to train and validate reserve component forces prior to an overseas deployment.

Preparations for the FSX began in February 2010 with a series of developmental conferences where representatives from First Army, the Mission Command Training Program, or MCTP, at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the 35th ID and the National Guard Bureau met to design the scenario, identify personnel requirements and create the simulations facility layout. More than 1000 Soldiers, Department of Defense civilians and contractors too part in the exercise.

The new FSX was intended to train military operations across the full spectrum of potential missions from high intensity conflict and counterinsurgency, or COIN, to stability operations using a simulations environment.

"In the last two years we have been in stability operations and COIN operations in both theaters of Afghanistan and Iraq," said David Ruggere, First Army's lead project officer for the exercise. "Though our Soldiers are really skilled at that, the one skill that a lot of maneuver Soldiers and staff have gotten away from is major combat operations -- a gunfight -- what used to be called a Warfighter Exercise."

The Warfighter Exercise, or WFX, is a much older offensive and defensive combat simulation which traditionally pitted a corps or division-sized unit against an opposing force in an intense force-on-force simulated battle.

James Dumolt, MCTP exercise control team chief, said the FSX is the first of its kind in the Army and has expanded simulations beyond the WFX in terms of functionality.

"What we have added on to that is what we call PMESII: political, military, economic, social, infrastructure and information aspects of the operational environment.," he said.

According to Dumolt, the Army is transitioning back to a focus on the combat skills trained during the WFX.

"We've been doing a lot of Mission Rehearsal Exercises in the last few years oriented toward Southwest Asia, and really doing a rehearsal to get us ready to go down range to Afghanistan and to Iraq. We are taking what we learned at the rehearsals, where PMNESII was developed, and add that on to the Warfighter Exercise to create an FSX."

Another "first" for this exercise is the addition of an active component unit as a training audience with the 35th ID in a simulations exercise. The 555th Engineer Brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., is providing unit members to conduct simulated engineer operations in support of the 35th ID plan.

Lt. Col. Dave Johnson, chief of plans for the 35th ID said it's not normal for a National Guard legacy Warfighter Exercise to have an active component unit participate.

"We've broken some new ground in that aspect as well," Johnson said. "We're learning from each other. They have a really top notch team and they bring a lot to the exercise that we wouldn't have had otherwise."

The Soldiers and leaders associated with the 35th ID exercise see this new full-spectrum simulation as a unique challenge and a means of shaping training for future reserve component units.

"This is really the proof of principle test for the Army on the FSX construct as well as the National Guard variant of the FSX. In the long run, we hope that our lessons learned will help others," Johnson said. "If we come out of this as a better unit and the Army learns from our actions, and in some cases mistakes, then we've all won and we are all better for it."

Wendel agreed that the new FSX as a critical step forward in First Army's efforts to better prepare reserve-component units for a wide variety of future missions and deployments.

"Exercises like these significantly increase readiness and provide opportunities for leaders at every level to sustain and improve critical warfighting skills," he said.