WASHINGTON (Feb. 6, 2015) – The 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska, received a bonus when they deployed to the National Training Center, or NTC, at Fort Irwin, California, last month: four extra training days.
The usual rotation is 14 days, said Maj. Rob Ensslin, spokesman for NTC’s Operations Group, which runs the training. The team instead received a total of 18 days in the training environment, as part of a pilot effort to determine cost savings and training advantages.
Follow-on brigade rotations will continue to be 14 days until the Chief of Staff of the Army and Secretary of the Army determine if the change will become permanent, Ensslin said.
Should changes come, NTC expects to have nine brigade rotations a year, rather than the current 10, to allow for the extended stay, Ensslin said.
Cost was one of the main factors for doing the pilot, Ensslin said, explaining that it costs a lot to move Soldiers and their equipment to NTC from home station and then back again.
For instance, 1st Stryker had to load their equipment on trains in Fairbanks, Alaska, which shuttled them down to Anchorage, Alaska, where they were moved aboard ship for transport to the lower 48 states. From there, the gear was moved back on trains to Barstow, California, where it was then offloaded and trucked to Fort Irwin.
Some of the equipment used by the brigade belongs to NTC and is used by rotating units, so there is cost avoidance there, he said. Also, the opposition force stays at Fort Irwin. But still, there are a lot of expenses involved in every rotation.
As part of the pilot effort, the number of mock battles was increased from three to five, providing more training scenarios for 1st Stryker Soldiers. This might be evidence that the extended training is beneficial to the brigade, Ensslin said, though it might be a bit early to speculate before the after-action review is completed at the conclusion of the rotation.
IMPROVEMENTS AT NTC
Ensslin said an underground mock chemical munitions lab is being constructed to give Soldiers more training in chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosives challenges. A rotation by the 82nd Airborne Division, later this year, is expected to be able to take advantage of this new capability in one of their training scenarios.
Also, over the last two years, NTC has become more efficient at getting rotating brigades involved earlier in training when they arrive and at minimizing set-up time.
The training center also hopes to get its observer-controller-trainers fully staffed sometime in the near future, Ensslin said. There are 730 instructors in the operations group, which amounts to about 70 percent staffing.
Finally, there is a move to include more “decisive action” scenarios in training, as well as more counterinsurgency-type scenarios. This move is in line with Army doctrine for future fights.
Lt. Col. Mick Braun, deputy commanding officer, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, said he noticed the change to more force-on-force training.
The last time he attended training at NTC, Braun said his brigade was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Then, there had been a heavy emphasis on living out of a forward operating base, protecting a forward operating base and interacting with locals and learning their customs and culture.
Now, Braun said, there’s a greater emphasis on decisive action.
“As a lieutenant in Hohenfels, Germany, we’d do force-on-force operations. It’s really interesting to go back to how we did things before 9/11,” Braun said. “For younger Soldiers, it’s a real eye-opener, especially for those who haven’t been deployed. It’s a chance for them to see everything the brigade brings to the fight.”
Braun said despite the lengthy training, sleep deprivation and stress, morale is high.
“Soldiers are really excited,” Braun said. “They’re learning not just their own jobs, but the capabilities of the brigade.”
Preparation for NTC training was intense as well.
For about eight months, Soldiers conducted home-station training in Alaska, doing multiple brigade-size exercises, Braun said. Additionally, some Soldiers came down early for observer-trainer briefings and a leader training program, which emphasized training as a staff, decision-making processes and even a simulated exercise.
As if that were not enough training, once the Soldiers return to Alaska later this week, they’ll have more intensive brigade-level training, using lessons learned from NTC and practicing command and control aspects learned at NTC, Braun said.
Braun said training at NTC stresses both equipment and Soldiers across a wide variety of terrains and scenarios. During training at Fort Irwin, vehicles broke down and came under attack, Soldiers were forced to find food and water, and trainees learned to operate within the “fog of war” — all while seeming to thrive on the experience.