Some 4,000 soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Riley, Kan., are training for realignment to U.S. Africa Command, expected later this year.
The 2nd BCT, or “Dagger” Brigade as it is known, will be the first brigade to be regionally aligned to U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM.
U.S. Pacific Command has had units regionally align to its area of responsibility with similar training at Fort Irwin earlier this year.
The drawdown in Afghanistan has enabled the Army to begin regional alignments, said Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, deputy commander, Futures and director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC.
Walker, who spoke last week at the Winter Wargame Unified Quest 2013, said the regional alignments were something the Army has looked forward to doing, but was until recently unable to do because of its commitments in Afghanistan.
TRADOC was instrumental in developing the regional alignment idea and doctrine as a way to build partnerships in various regions of the world, not only for security purposes, but also to foster goodwill and friendships between militaries, governments and the civilian population.
Following weeks of small-unit preparatory training at Fort Riley, the 2nd BCT, 1ID, arrived here at the National Training Center, or NTC, for decisive action training, which lasts from Feb. 16 to March 1. That training consists of two main parts: combined arms maneuver and wide-area security.
Combined arms maneuver is the conventional aspect of warfare, involving the brigade’s own tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, artillery, helicopters, various supporting elements and boots on the ground.
Also, fixed-wing support comes from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.; from the United Arab Emirates, which is flying Mirage jets; and from Edwards AFB, Calif., which is contributing Air Force UAVs.
The opposing force, or OPFOR, consists of mirror aircraft, combat vehicles and about 1,000 troops from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, or “Blackhorse” Regiment as it is known, which is stationed here at Fort Irwin. Some of those soldiers are also playing the part of host-nation security forces. Also, contractors at Fort Irwin play the part of locals.
Daggers Brigade’s own logistics assets are supported and augmented by the 916th Support Bde., which is also at Fort Irwin.
In wide-area security, the other main focus of decisive action training, soldiers are trained to deal with counterinsurgency missions, humanitarian crises, floods of refugees, criminal and insurgent elements and even negotiations with host-nation governments, tribal leaders and local and national militias.
While the two parts of decisive action training can be thought of separately, in reality they overlap, said Lt. Col. David Oesgher, the NTC senior operations officer or G3. He explained that a humanitarian crisis or rear-action guerrilla warfare could occur at the same time conventional fighting is taking place at the forward edge of the battle area.
The brigade leadership, which met with planners at NTC months earlier to discuss their customized training objectives, wanted NTC trainers to stress the humanitarian aspect, since that is considered one of the more likely scenarios soldiers will face in Africa, according to Lt. Col. Jack Murphy, who heads up the NTC Operations Group. However, he said, the rest of the decisive action training is also something all soldiers need to be really good at no matter what region they’re aligned with.
Murphy said the training is intense, with troops spread thin across “the box,” as the vast training area is called, which is about the size of Rhode Island.
That intensity, or “fog and friction” as Murphy terms it, comes from one crisis after another, lack of sleep or down time, and realistic scenarios where soldiers at all levels must think quickly and make crucial life-or-death judgment calls, while simulated and real ordnance is being dropped and where injured and wounded role players must be tended to.
While intense, Murphy stressed that “it is not chaos. We want to ensure this is a learning experience,” he said. “We don’t want the soldiers to fail. We’re here to coach and mentor them to be successful.”
He added that even with all of the live ordnance being dropped and complex movements of people and vehicles on the ground and in the air, safety is always emphasized and much rehearsal and choreography has gone into the scenarios, even before training started.
As well, he said that the some 500 observers, coaches and trainers are all combat experienced, professionals and cream-of-the-crop so the brigade’s training and safety is in good hands.
All soldiers receive feedback or after-action reviews after each scenario using video. Hundreds of cameras record soldiers’ every move, day or night as they go through simulated towns, responding to very realistic situations. Also, soldiers know when they’ve been hit or scored a hit because people, aircraft of all type and weapons systems are equipped with the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System, more commonly known as MILES.
Those trainers will not only provide tactical feedback, they also will observe human interactions among soldiers and between locals and if necessary, they will not hesitate to take a commander at any level aside to discuss more effective ways of doing things, Murphy said.
NTC uses lessons learned over the last 12 years of war, refinements to doctrine from TRADOC and feedback from deployed units who trained here to continually improve its training, according to Oesgher.
Oesgher added that Army combat training centers worldwide “are on the same sheet,” meaning the training has been standardized and fully validated.
The training soldiers receive at NTC is as real as it gets, he said, relating his own experience in Afghanistan, where Oesgher was wounded in an attack by two suicide bombers.
He said going into one of the mock villages during a simulation “brought everything back,” adding that it’s better for soldiers to “freak out” in training during realistic scenarios than to freeze up in a real-life situation.