LEWISVILLE, Texas -- More than 20 Soldiers of the 345th Psychological Operations Company started pre-deployment training March 26, 2012 at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Lewisville, Texas. The training is in preparation for their upcoming deployment to the Horn of Africa. The unit will go to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. early this summer for ten days of additional theater-required training and PSYOP collective exercises, then will deploy to the Horn of Africa for roughly nine months.
"Our team is triple the size of the PSYOP team we are replacing," said Maj. Matt Perritte, the detachment's commander and an Austin, Texas police officer who deployed with the 344th PSYOP Company to Afghanistan in 2011. "Our mission will expand and morph once we get there, but we'll conduct atmospherics, analysis of local attitudes -- pulse of the people, so to speak -- and assist in communicating as appropriate with the local population."
Perritte explained that because of the increased size of the team and the fact that the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa hasn't had large PSYOP assets in the past, the mission will have to grow to allow for fully functional tactical PSYOP teams. "We may have to take comfort in knowing that we are setting up the next group for success," he quipped.
In the past, much of the 345th's deployment training would have taken place at a Regional Training Center away from home. But now most of the training will be conducted home station training at the Reserve center just prior to deployment. By conducting the training at a unit's "home" location, the Army saves costs as well as allows Soldiers to spend more time with their Families and preparing to be away from home. This is the new deployment training model now that regional training centers have been closed.
Like any deployment, there will be periods of downtime.
"Keeping everyone busy and focused is the key," said Staff Sgt. Reginald Pinkney, the detachment's tactical PSYOP detachment noncomissioned officer in charge. Pinkney, who deployed with the unit to Afghanistan a couple of years ago, is a former Active and Reserve Marine who transitioned to the Army Reserve to take advantage of greater opportunities to expand into new career fields. "The Army Reserve had a lot more MOS (military occupation specialties)," he said, "And I chose PSYOP because of the unique mission.
"Our mission in HOA is unique in that everyone is really working under the State Department," noted Pinkney. "So, how do we integrate PSYOP? It will be a challenge and at times we may have to find stuff to keep our Soldiers busy."
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lankford, product development detachment noncommissioned officer in charge agreed, "We'll have to continue to train, study the area, do physical training (PT) maybe twice a day, brainstorm projects, and do schoolwork."
In the meantime, the detachment's Soldiers are taking full advantage of the training being offered close to home. On March 29th, the agenda included tips and tricks for maintaining the Psychological Operations Print System-- Light -- the workhorse of the PSYOP product detachment -- and how to properly setup, operate, and store the Product Distribution System -- a satellite communications system used by PSYOP teams to transmit and receive communications products.
This training was aided by 'exceptional' support from both the 4th Military Information Support Group and the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne)'s 10th PSYOP Battalion, according to Lt. Col. Robert Sentell, the commander of 17th PSYOP Battalion -- the higher headquarters of 345th PSYOP Company.
"We don't have organic maintenance support for our PSYOP specific equipment," explained Sentell. "Since these are the same ones (systems) we deploy with it was imperative that we not break them during train-up."
Sentell explained that two maintenance specialists from the 4th MISG and two Soldiers from 10th PSYOP Bn. with experience fixing POPS-L were essential. "Having them there was a safety net for us," he said. "We could train on them and learn to repair them. But if we did break them, they could fix them before the detachment deployed."
"These guys have worked with these systems more than us," said Perritte. "There was nobody here, really, who could teach us the ins-and-outs. We've always fallen in on these systems and they were maintained and repaired by someone else. Ours will be the first into HOA and there isn't a maintenance contract or technicians there. So, we'll have to know how to fix them."
Cpl. Jaime Bailey, a newly trained psychological operations specialist, agreed that the hands-on training was key.
"I want to make sure I know what I'm doing," she said. "The tips and tricks they showed us will be really helpful. I just don't want to mess up."
With six more weeks of training ahead, the Soldiers of the 345th PSYOP Company are sure to learn a few more tricks to keep their equipment running.