JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- An American convoy approaches, a dusty trail of dirt and sand billowing behind. The vehicles form a perimeter around the town square, and the Soldiers are quickly greeted by men speaking Pashtu.
"It's not Afghanistan, but it's as realistic as we can make it," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Shay, an Ohio native and trainer mentor with 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry Battalion, 174th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East.
As women circle in Afghani attire and Soldiers watch over their shoulders, it's like a scene from any given village in Afghanistan. But this isn't Afghanistan. It's New Jersey. The Soldiers are real but the role-players are there to help prepare the Soldiers for an upcoming deployment. This is the Collective Tasks Operations Lane, a three-to-four day culminating training exercise for service members mobilizing in support of ongoing overseas contingency operations.
"This is where it all comes together as a team," said Shay, a recent graduate of the Army counter-IED master trainer course at Camp Shelby, Miss. "An environment like this evaluates all the training they received thus far. It tests both individual reactions and unit cohesion in a variety of situations."
During the CTOL training, administered by trainer mentors in 1-307th Infantry Battalion, Soldiers participate in a mission-tailored theater emersion exercise. Day one, the preparation phase, allows service members time to refresh their Troop Leading Procedures and prepare their mission brief. They also review their reporting and Escalation of Force measures, and practice battle drills such as react to contact, call for fire, casualty evacuation and vehicle recovery. Days two, three and sometimes four, focus solely on mission execution under various conditions.
"Day one is more or less a refresher to ensure the teams are prepared for the nest days missions," explained Army Capt. Patrick Murphy, CTOL Officer-in-Charge. "At the end of day one, the team leaders receive the concept of the operation from our trainer mentors. Today, it's key leader engagement and counterinsurgency."
As U.S. and Afghan officials meet in Kabul, Afghanistan to discuss our strategic partnership past 2014 and how troops will operate come the withdraw of combat forces, likewise, service members train on developing effective working relationships on a tactical level. The CTOL provides a crawl-walk-run glimpse of typical situations service members may encounter overseas, including: convoy operations, reacting to an IED, ambush, small arms fire, operating a traffic control point and key leader engagement. This particular scenario involved village elders requesting more reliable basic services.
"I can't promise you water, but I can promise I'll try and work with the people who can," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Wesley Hill, 351st Ordnance Company, U.S. Army Reserve headquartered in Martinsburg, W.V. "In turn, I need your help to tell me more about the insurgent activity in your village."
"It's a bit of tit-for-tat negotiating being trained in this scenario," said Shay, an Infantryman with four deployments and more than 19 years of active service. "Training key leader engagement techniques is important to all aspects of our partnering mission -- your word is your bond -- relationships go a long way in keeping us safe."
This is the first host nation partnership mission for Hill and his company. The 351st deployed to Iraq in 2008 for 10 months where they were responsible for 3,700 tons of ammunition and 1.2 million pounds of explosives at the supply point at Contingency Operating Location, Q-West. The 351st is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in May.
The 174th Inf. Bde, First Army Division East, mobilizes, trains, validates and deploys Reserve Component units at JB-MDL to support overseas military operations. Along with Reserve component units, the division's trainer/mentors prepare and deploy sailors and airmen, along with selected members of the interagency and intergovernmental departments, to provide trained and ready forces across a full-spectrum of operations to regional combatant commanders worldwide.