By Jim Hughes, Command Information OfficerMarch 14, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 14, 2013) -- After 90 Aviation Training Exercises spanning more than 16 years, the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade's ATX Feb. 26 to March 7 is expected to be the last active-duty exercise of its kind at Fort Rucker.
The ATX era began in 1997 with the 4th Aviation Brigade readying for Kosovo in outdated buildings that no longer exist and ended in the state-of-the-art Seneff facility, with the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence's Directorate of Simulation running the show to ready units for war with a final collective training event for deploying units, according to Wade Becnel, deputy director of DOS.
The reason for the end of active-duty ATXs is the Army's move to home-station training, Becnel said, adding it is expected that Guard units will continue to do ATXs at the Seneff since they generally are brought together from different areas when they deploy.
"It's for all the right reasons," he said. "Years ago when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and I was still in the Army, we were responsible for our own training. We haven't done that for more than 10 years now. But now we're going from an Army at war to an Army preparing for war, which means we're going to have to do home-station training again."
He added that the chief of staff of the Army, U.S. Army Forces Command, and U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command have talked for some time about going back to home-station training, and now it is going into effect.
"They realize that our foundation was always built on home-station training," Becnel said. "This year, FORSCOM said that after this fiscal year, no more."
What the reason isn't is a statement on the value of ATXs, Becnel said, adding that he received a great amount of feedback from commanders and Aviators over the years as to the value of the exercises for deploying units.
"You'll never achieve perfection -- there are always some who won't recognize the value," he said. "But for the most part, the overwhelming majority said, 'Thank God we had an ATX -- it really helped us prepare for the mission.'"
Col. David J. Francis, 10th CAB commander out of Fort Drum, N.Y., is a firm believer in the ATX system.
"The ATX puts units under pressure so that we can find where we need to fine tune our staffs before we go," he said. "It is our final collective training event and it is an invaluable tool to help us finalize our preparation for deployment.
"The technology that exists now to simulate and put the staff in conditions that you just can't replicate with live training -- to be able to figure out how your staff reacts, processes information and solves problems," he added. "We're going to be better because of it."
And that is exactly what Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, who spoke to the 10th CAB members down for the exercise right before it kicked off, likes to hear from units going through ATXs.
Speaking to the "why" of Army Aviation, Mangum said, "We are and need to be dedicated to and relentlessly focused on honoring the sacred trust with commanders and Soldiers on the ground. That's why we exist. There is no other Aviation organization on the planet that is dedicated to and relentlessly focused on supporting the Soldiers on the ground like we are. We're not there for ourselves, we're there to make sure that the mission happens whether it's our job or not.
"Know that no country in the world can do what the U.S. Army can do. No Army can do what the U.S. Army can do because of Army Aviation," he said. "What we bring to the fight, in the density and the proportion that we do is what sets us apart. The bad guys are scared of us, the good guys love us, and that's what it's all about."
Becnel said the end of the active-duty ATX era leaves a legacy of improving on and proving virtual training as an effective means of readying Soldiers for war.
"I think Aviation is further ahead of other branches (using virtual training) because we rely so heavily on it," he said. "Everyone wants to fly live, but virtual training can let people make a bad decision and ride it to the crash site -- of course you can't do that in a live aircraft."
But ultimately, the ATXs were Fort Rucker standing up and accepting a mission given to it by the Army.
"Fort Rucker should be really proud," Becnel said. "The Army said it needed help, and Fort Rucker stood up and helped. Now the Army is saying, 'Thank you, Fort Rucker, we'll pick up the mission again.'"
Becnel said that the end of active-duty ATXs doesn't mean a reduction in workload for DOS, which will continue its primary mission of supporting Aviation training.
"We have plenty of work to do -- we're going to focus on training the warfighters to help them in the field," he said. "We'll be doing more now to help in the future, where this helped in the now. It won't be as glitzy with everyone running through here, but the results will build future Aviation capabilities and make them better when they get to the units."