May 29, 2014, FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. – Texas Military Forces’ 36th Infantry Division joined military members from all across the country to hone their warfighting and peacekeeping skills in a wide-scoped, big picture training exercise. Soldiers and Airmen delved into a battlefield scenario and fought through a designed conflict to come away with very real results. The scenarios tested commanders and their staff’s skills at every level from first contact through offensive and defensive measures to sustainment, all without firing a single shot. This highly sophisticated training exercise is known as Warfighter.
In this exercise, the units being evaluated act at their designated level, while the additional units training participate by filling in as higher and complimentary levels of command and support. Each training level leads to the next, building cohesion and a mastery of concepts. This year, the Lone Star State’s Soldiers find themselves in the role of Corps Headquarters during the official evaluation for the 42nd Infantry Division from Troy, New York and 12 other states.
Capt. Dustin Crapse, 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Georgia National Guard, said some of the best advice he would recommend when preparing for the Warfighter exercise would be, “If you are about to go into the ‘box,’ it is best to make sure you dust off your SOPs [standard operating procedures], you dust off your 10-level [basic] skills manuals and your [Field Manuals]; bring them to the Warfighter and put your ‘game-face’ on, because it’s long hard days and it is a great learning experience,” he said.
Crapse explained further, a Warfighter builds on all of a Soldier’s skills gained to date.
“The greatest experience you can have as far as training in the Army, because it forces you to exercise all of your skills inside your MOS [Military Occupation Specialty]. We all go through AIT [Army Initial Training] or OBC [Officers Basic Course] they don’t have the time and the resources to put together the training environment in which you would function as a unit. So, a Warfighter provides that resource that you can go to, to function as a unit, rehearse your SOP’s and practice the doctrine that you were taught back in your MOS-producing school.”
Over 50 acres of Fort Leavenworth are dedicated to supporting the specialized training environment where fiction and reality go head-to-head. The Mission Training Complex- Leavenworth (MTC-LVN) provides a versatile training facility that includes projected and response training products as well as a staff of civilian and military experts to design and execute the training scenarios. While these scenarios are computer driven they offer a level of interaction that test Commanders’ and senior leaders’ critical decision making skills and offer a broader understanding to staff members.
Working in a Combined Operations Integration Cell, Soldiers and Airmen from each facet of the operation navigate a three-screened computer that offers a detailed view of the battlefield so they can manage their assets and keep the Command aware of the subtlest of threats or changes.
Sgt. Jeremy Terry, 36ID, Plans and Operations, has participated in three other Warfighter Exercises and has taken away some valuable lessons, such as ”keeping your head on a swivel.”
What I mean by that is, you may think you know what you are doing but there are other people around you that are doing the same job day in and day out with you; you need to be able to learn new things and not think that you are the (only) subject matter expert of your area,” he said. “You can always learn new things and not be afraid to operate outside of your role. If you see someone struggling, go over and help them out and that will be returned to you.”
For every Army unit there is a three-phase training cycle that takes the units from a reset mode (after a deployment) where units overhaul their gear and personnel, to battle drills and computerized training scenarios (like this one), ending in a final evaluation exercise before deployment; then it cycles back again. This training cycle is called ARFORGEN. Short for Army Force Generation, ARFORGEN is the Army’s core process of building trained and ready forces.
National Guard units have a four-year cycle while active components are on a two-year cycle. Commander of the 36 ID Headquarters Battalion, Lt. Col. Gary Beaty, relayed the importance of training like this is it allows those Soldiers who in the last 12 years have not known an environment where we did not fall into operations and pick up from where the last unit stopped, “It still comes back to the basics. It does not matter how technologically advanced we become, those systems are still vulnerable especially as we move further into the 21st century – You have to be ready to lose those systems and capabilities and still be able to fight in a [more] degraded type mode than what we are used to.”
As part of making the battle simulation world come to life for the service members and to be true to an Army training motto of “train as we fight,” the two-week training exercise is conducted at an operational tempo as if in theater. That means 24-hour operations, tense sessions of accountability, dealing with the loss of troops and assets, as well as print, online and video news stories that are either accurate or designed to fuel the fires of enemy combatants. No detail has been overlooked; even weather conditions provide a very real impact on plans and operations.
Maj. Sean Gibbons, 209th Weather Flight, Texas Air National Guard, Camp Mabry said, “Weather affects everything, out there; weather stops missions from even getting off the ground. Air Force Weather provides 24-hour global forecasting support. During this mission we worked out a lot of the bugs on how our product needs to look for the general to make the decisions he needs to make at the Corps level. Meeting the staff will be a huge benefit when it comes time for us to be evaluated next year or deploy … we are one family … one fight.”