CSTX 86-17-02 prepares Soldiers for austere battlefield

By Staff Sgt. Debralee Best | 86th Training Division | Aug. 18, 2017

FORT MCCOY, Wis. — The 86th Training Division works hard to prepare U.S. Army Reserve units with realistic and austere training exercises. These annual exercises have been focused on preparing them for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but as the future locations of future conflicts is fluid, these exercises must also be adapted.

Combat Support Training Exercise (CSTX) 86-17-02, which began Aug. 5 at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, is one such exercise. 

CSTX is a large-scale training event, hosted by the 86th Training Division, acting as an executing agent for the 84th Training Command and U.S. Army Reserve Command, where units experience tactical training scenarios specifically designed to replicate real-world missions. It will train more than 12,000 service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps as well as from six countries.

“We set the box, we set the scenario, we set the conditions for an austere environment for training rotation units to come through here,” said Col. Ronald Meredith, 86th Training Division acting commander and exercise director for CSTX, regarding the 86th TD mission. “So, what we do is we establish the battlefield, we get the training areas established, we provide a scenario for real-world exercising in an austere environment for those units to come here, occupy tactical assembly areas and conduct missions based on our injects, our scenario writing, the operating scenario of the environment and then whatever STX, situational training lanes, we have established.”

The 86th TD and three partner units from First Army, 75th Training Command and Medical Readiness Training Command work collaboratively to bring all the collective training together. 

Training these units is essential in preparation for their possible future missions.

“Our responsibility, our mission, is to provide that collective training opportunity to units who are either scheduled to or potentially scheduled to deploy in the next year or so,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Rigor, deputy operations and plans officer, 86th TD and exercise program manager.

While CSTX mainly focuses on training Army Reserve units, other military services and international forces join the training fight as well.

“Given everything we were already doing and the complexity of it, it’s just an evolution of it actually. I think there is so much value in joint and multinational training, that it’s worth the extra effort to make it happen. We say a lot, ‘train as you fight,’ and in the current and future environment, that’s what it’s going to be. It’s going to be multinational,” said Rigor.

In addition to including additional forces, there are also multifunctional exercises within CSTX. These include Air Force’s Patriot Warrior; Global Medic, a medical exercise; U.S. Army Reserve Mortuary Affairs Exercise; HR Warrior, a personnel management exercise; Diamond Saber, a finance exercise; and Trans Warrior, a transportation exercise.

CSTX is a large scale operation that previously focused on conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, but is adapting for more remote locations.

“Five years ago, we were decisively engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan so the mentality was unit would come here, fall in on a set of pre-existing set of equipment, facilities, what we used to call FOBs, forward operating bases,” said Meredith. “… We operated that way for a while. We’re not going to fight the next war that way. We’re going to fight the next war in an austere environment. What austerity means is you do an invasion of a country, whether it’s land or sea, you establish a bridge-head or a beach-head and you start pushing troops out. You’re basically operating in the wild. Last year was really the first year we pushed them off the FOB and into the wild.”

For the planners, this meant changing the scenario of the exercise and the timeline.

“We’re not at stability, it’s earlier on. The exercise now starts about the beginning of the counter-attack … In this exercise the coalition counter-attack started two days before the official start date of the exercise. It’s earlier and that’s a big change,” said Rigor. “Because of that, there is nothing established in the country you’re counter-attacking into, we’re following the combat elements in so we can continue to support them. That’s where you hear the term austerity a lot. It’s an austere environment. Whatever is out there on the ground is what’s out there on the ground. We’re not contracting big giant tents, we’re not building a (dining facility), there’s no FOB walls and there is not a mayor cell anymore. Things are more fluid. You might not stay in that location very long before you move on to another location. So, that has to be incorporated in there.” 

The new training scenario of CSTX also allows a more mobile force.

“Going back to 20 years ago, take a look at the way the Army was, they were a lot more expeditionary and you set up a tactical assembly area and you defend that assembly area,” said Rigor. “As needed that assembly area can move to a different location as the battle progresses forward.”

CSTX is about shaping the Army Reserve into a more agile and lethal force and changing the mentality of those Soldiers training as they will fight.

“You can’t change a 200,000 person culture overnight, but these (Warrior Exercises) and CSTXs help change that culture. How does this help readiness? It helps change the culture to back where we were during the Cold War when we actually did this stuff,” said Meredith. “You’ve got truck drivers out there probably building fighting positions for the first time in their lives. So that’s a step in the right direction.”

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