WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 30, 2015) — First Army is three years ahead of Department of the Army’s schedule for transforming to a focus on pre-mobilization training for the reserve components.
“Operation Bold Shift” is about two-thirds complete now, said First Army Commander Lt. Gen. Michael S. Tucker. The reorganization will be finished by next summer, well ahead of the 2019 requirement.
Sixteen training brigades have already collapsed to nine, he said. And those brigades are primarily being filled with combat support and combat service support Soldiers.
About 77 percent of the Army’s capability set, or CS, and combat service support, or CSS, capability resides in the reserve components, Tucker said. But within First Army, about 90 percent of its trainers were combat arms, and that had to be changed.
“I was sending an infantryman out here to help train a horizontal engineer platoon, which just doesn’t work,” Tucker said.
Now, First Army is reorganizing to better suit the needs of the National Guard and Army Reserve, he said. With the reorganization, it will be 77 percent CS and CSS.
The reorganization will be completed at little or no cost, and with no change in end strength. Tucker used a metaphor:
“So if we’re the ‘USS First Army,’ we took the deck chairs that were on different levels and we painted them different colors and we moved them around, but at the end of the day, we didn’t put any more deck chairs on the boat.”
POST-MOB TO PRE-MOB FOCUS
In 2006, First Army was surging to mobilize about 90,000 National Guard and Reserve Soldiers annually. It was operating 12 mobilization sites to prepare troops for Iraq, Afghanistan and other deployments.
First Army didn’t have the capacity then to provide much assistance with pre-mobilization training on weekends or annual training for the Guard and Reserve, Tucker said.
Flash ahead seven years, though, and much had changed. In the fall of 2013, shortly after Tucker took command of First Army, Department of the Army officials discussed with him how more pre-mobilization training management might shorten the time that Guard and Reserve units would need to spend on active duty preparing to deploy.
The number of First Army-operated mobilization stations has been reduced from 12 to two: Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas. And instead of mobilizing 90,000 troops annually, only about 18,000 are scheduled to go through the mobilization sites during fiscal year 2016.
Now First Army measures success in its ability to reduce the time it takes to mobilize a unit to go overseas.
“If you’re over here shaping pre-mobilization readiness,” Tucker said, “then you will be able to reduce post-mobilization time, because the hill won’t be as steep and it won’t be as long.”
When mobilizing units to go downrange, First Army used a checklist provided by the combatant commander. Pre-mobilization training, on the other hand, is based more on unit mission-essential tasks, he said. For instance, engineering units train on engineering tasks. Transportation units train on movement tasks.
So Tucker recognized the need to reorganize the First Army training brigades. Those units are now being staffed with more engineers, military intelligence specialists, transporters, quartermaster troops, and multi-functional logisticians, he said. There are medical units, military police units, aviation and air defense sections.
“So now we match up skill for skill,” Tucker said. Air defenders serve as observer coach/trainers to help train National Guard air defense units, he said. Engineers will serve as observer-coach/trainers, or OC/Ts, for engineering units.
First Army increased its OC/Ts by 36 percent. At the same time, it began reducing two-star and three-star headquarters by 50 percent.
“We’re truly a pyramid,” Tucker said, with “a very small headquarters and a very large base, which is a very, very efficient organization.”
Guidance was to begin the transformation no later than 2017 and complete it by 2019, but Tucker said “Bold Shift” will be finished by the end of next summer.
The brigades are set up now. Soldiers are coming in now with the necessary skill sets.
“We’re excited,” Tucker said. “We’re well on our way now. This is really, really huge for us. And this is huge for the reserve component because now we can match up and help them in pre-mobilization.”
First Army has about 8,500 Soldiers in its headquarters and training brigades.
The brigades are multi-compo units – composed of both active-duty and Reserve Soldiers.
The Soldiers are “very doctrinally savvy,” Tucker said. “We keep a very rich military professional education pool at First Army, because those are enablers when we go out to units.”
Each training brigade has 20 to 30 Army Guard and Reserve brigades to train, Tucker said.
What the reserve component needs is predictability to manage expectations for both Families and employers, Tucker said. “We now can help them get to that” through training management.
Tucker wants to help Guard and Reserve units undergo more live-fire training and more gunnery ranges. He believes that’s what Soldiers have been short-changed on since 9-11 due to all of the counter-insurgency operations along with advise and assist missions to train other militaries.
“We’re convinced the Reserve Component needs more than 39 days to train,” Tucker said.
The 39 days are based on two days a month and two weeks of annual training, and that’s been in place since 1915, Tucker said, adding that it’s “probably a little dated.” He said with the sophisticated equipment Soldiers operate today, they need more days to train on that equipment.
Although focusing on training management for the Guard and Reserve, First Army must still run its mobilization centers on Fort Hood and Fort Bliss.
Guard and Reserve units are still mobilizing for Kosovo, the Sinai, the Horn of Africa, Guantanamo Bay, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq, Tucker said.
The continental U.S. or CONUS, Replacement Center, or CRC, was formerly run by Training and Doctrine Command on Fort Benning, Georgia. Now First Army runs the CRC on Fort Bliss. About 4,000 individual replacement Soldiers and contractors now mobilize through the CRC annually, Tucker said.
The Air Defense Artillery units that defend Washington, D.C., are mobilized by First Army for six-month rotations, Tucker said.
A unique medical training facility on the northern part of Fort Hood is used to mobilize combat support hospitals, Tucker said.
The Army needs to use the National Guard and Reserve more, he said, adding that mobilizing reserve-component units for missions around the world actually helps their retention.
“Kids out there in America want to join the Guard and Reserve to do things, things that are exciting,” Tucker said.
The Army should never deploy without the Guard and Reserve, he said.
“When you bring the Guard and Reserve … you bring hometown America with you,” he said. “That’s important.”
By Gary Sheftick