FORT MCCOY, W.I. –
Venturing into rolling green fields and lush summer foliage, this morning finds US Army Reserve Soldiers and leaders on a mission. Capt. Samuel Tunstall, operations officer of the 16th Psychological Operations Battalion, 2nd Psychological Group, United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, identified one of his hardworking subject matter experts and professionals to share their story.
“Sergeant Molenda is the one to speak with. He put together the training package for our scenarios today, is very sharp, and knows this job inside and out,” Tunstall said.
Today’s rising heat and sweltering humidity embrace a sizable multi-family compound and 16th PO BN’s training area for the day; essentially a small village fully contained within sturdy walls, and limited access through a single gate to a veritable labyrinth of linked courtyards and living spaces. These dedicated training structures are similar those found in rural and urban terrain around the world which Soldiers routinely encounter while deployed.
“Right now, we’re conducting team tasks at a tactical level. They go out and conduct everything from street level engagements, so talking to local populace, to possibly engaging with key leaders like religious leaders, political leaders, or security figureheads,” Sgt. 1st Class Justin Molenda, operations noncommissioned officer with 393rd Tactical Psychological Operations Company, 16th Psychological Operations Battalion, explained of today’s training effort. “We try to get an understanding of whatever theater we’re in. Basically, we’re not there to just simply provide a security force or give things away. We’re actually trying to build relationships, build partnership with other nations that could possibly use support or grow stronger together.”
Molenda emphasized that comprehensive real-world training enables 16th PO BN teams to effectively support the objectives of theater commanders.
“Our mission is to support the 16th PSYOPS battalion in a post-COVID environment mobilization exercise. What we gain from this is to exercise Army warrior tasks we’ve been unable to do from 2020 to 2021.”
These mission essential tasks include everything from individual and crew-served live-fire weapon ranges to scenario-based training specific to the 16th PO BN’s unique expertise and Soldier skill set.
“We have Soldiers from the Midwest and East Coast. Primarily, the Chicago land area, and we have a unit outside Fort Jackson, South Carolina, so there’s a little bit of space between us,” Molenda explained. “We want to make sure coming back full circle in 2021 to get on-ground and assess what we haven’t been able to assess this last training year; making sure our Soldiers are still able to operate in different environments, with different variables.”
Molenda originally entered the Army serving one weekend a month, two weeks a year as an Army Reserve Soldier, but went on to commit to full-time service for the Army Reserves.
He now facilitates daily operations for his Reserve company.
“Getting them organized with their training for the year, getting them to school and being able to deploy them for any mission our higher command may need,” Molenda said.
“I like the people, I like the exposure, I like meeting people from different walks of life and being able to provide for and assist Soldiers with their needs,” Molends explained.
What he most enjoyed about his work: watching Soldiers mature and rise through the ranks, promote out of the unit, or pursue other life transitions is about observing legacy in action and, “leaving a lineage behind to re-establish our regiment.”
Molenda encourages Soldiers, peers, and leadership to “stay vigilant, continue to train, and get the force back out there,” and shared an insight gained from his many years of service and leadership; “rank doesn’t make you right, it makes you responsible.”