CAMP SHELBY, Miss. –
With that in mind, First Army has joined its enterprise partners and reserve component units for Pershing Strike 22, an exercise which tests the ability to stand up a mobilization force generation installation. Such installations are essential to getting individuals and units combat-ready and onto the battlefield. The Level III mobilization readiness exercise is being conducted at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, with coinciding command post exercises at Fort Bliss, Texas, and at First Army headquarters on Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois.
During the exercise, reserve component units and the First Army Combined Operations Integration Center are tested on their ability to respond to significant events. Participants work through possible scenarios involving the likes of mass casualties, railhead operations, and equipment fielding issues. It means constant movement of parts, pieces, and troops to stress and test the units and First Army headquarters.
One of the first steps for those at Camp Shelby is Soldier readiness processing. This includes a medical portion, which Maj. Marilyn Keen, a senior physician’s assistant with the 7226th Medical Support Unit, helps to facilitate.
“We do a medical screen to ensure their readiness. We’re looking at: Do they have the appropriate immunizations, do they have the appropriate lab work, is their hearing and vision up to date,” Keen explained. “We look at the whole Soldier medical picture to make sure they are ready to deploy, or if they have something that makes them nondeployable, we address that. They’re getting all their labs, they’re getting their dental, they’re getting their hearing and vision. If they come without being green on most of their stuff, they will spend a long day here. If they have all their ducks in a row, they get in and get out.”
With the medical readiness taken care of, the Soldiers move onto training. First Army observer coach/trainers work alongside their partnered units in the reserve component to help ensure those units meet their commander’s intent and are ready to deploy.
Along those lines, Staff Sgt. Stanley Butterfield, a 177th Armored Brigade Observer Coach/Trainer, worked with Soldiers of the 290th Military Police Brigade on all aspects of the M249.
“We’re going to teach them different movements on how the range works to prepare them for their live fire,” Butterfield said. “In the Army, you train to fight so any familiarization helps you become better firer or a better weapons handler. This is crucial to helping them maintain readiness.”
That is part of the mutually beneficial relationship between First Army and the reserve component, he added. “Building that trust and rapport always helps to positively affect the training, especially over time, and that strengthens the partnerships,” Butterfield said.
It makes for valuable training for the likes of Spc. Rasheed Alexis of the 304th Military Police Company.
“We’ve worked on how to assemble and reassemble the M249, do a functions check, and address malfunctions,” Alexis said. “I’ve shot it before but I’ve never broke it down piece by piece so that familiarization was valuable. First Army is making sure we’re getting the training we need and that we are doing it properly.”
For Sgt. 1st Class Courtland Smith, Pershing Strike 22 represents his first time to perform OC/T duties. “I’m getting eyes on, soaking everything in,” he said. “It’s different to be on this side of things as opposed to the person doing the training.”
On this day, Smith is working with Soldiers from the 304th Military Police Battalion on weapons familiarization. “A successful day of training is making sure they gain familiarity with the M249, which leads to a successful qualification,” he said. “With the Reserve side of the house, these units are dispersed from their parent company and they come here to work as an entire brigade, and so there’s going to be hiccups that come along. But they have identified some challenges and they’re going to work through those challenges, and so far, they’re doing very well.”
Smith added that they’re doing it all while maintaining a stellar attitude and work ethic. For example, Staff Sgt. Carlos Tolentino, an MP with the 810th Military Police Company, said he relishes the chance to “train on various taskers, such as non-lethal, Situational Tactical Exercise lanes, check points, and detainee operations, and to gain familiarization with some weapons systems I hadn’t used before. First Army has had some valuable input on the non-lethal training that we did.”
Another key skill set sharpened was driver training. During this event, the driver, gunner, and commander do a deep dive into their roles, while also honing their communication between each other.
“We’re identifying and engaging targets,” said Sgt. Alexander Harden of the 810th Military Police Company. “We will use this downrange doing perimeter searches or when we encounter the enemy. It’s been amazing training and First Army has been great to work with. They have helped us gain proficiency at identifying targets, knowing when to engage, and at sharpening communication between those in the vehicle.”
That’s a huge plus in this line of work, noted Spc. Hugo Gudino, a 810th Military Police Company vehicle commander. “The communication aspect is big in gunnery. Getting those repetitions in makes us more proficient in the field,” he said.
Gudino added that the First Army OC/Ts have “been great, certainly knowledgeable and proficient. They’re working with us through different lanes and tables, and this really helps us prepare.”
One of those OC/Ts, Staff Sgt. Wayne Platten, lauded the efforts of the training Soldiers.
“They’re showing a lot of potential. This table is where we go through the fire commands…and we’re honing in on that skill set. I’m very impressed with their performance,” Platten said. “There were some twitches but that’s to be expected with every unit. The training that is being done now will pay off when they go downrange. This improves their muscle memory and we’re developing the Soldiers to have the highest level of training so when that stressful moment kicks in, they go back to that highest level of training.”
Meanwhile, command post exercises at Rock Island Arsenal and Fort Bliss test the headquarters on executing their roles and duties.
Maj. Jeffrey Johnson of the First Army G3 Exercises Branch explained that the exercise serves to “validate First Army’s and its mobilization enterprise partners’ ability to conduct large-scale mobilization operations and enable total force readiness through achieving enterprise-wide organizational effectiveness of operational processes.”
“The purpose of a MOBEX is to provide the Army a plan to rehearse and refine processes and procedures at designated MFGIs in the context of a no-notice contingency mobilization,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, the headquarters gets tested on the requirements needed to get multiple MFGIs off the ground. “First Army headquarters is conducting a command post exercise to facilitate real and fictional stressors to battle rhythms, in order to see the process needed when standing up nine to 11 MFGIs at one time,” Johnson said.
All this is in keeping with one of First Army’s major roles, as it fosters improved partnerships with Reserve Component units, while also increasing their readiness. “All units involved are National Guard and Reserve. These units are able to test and stress systems and processes, movement capabilities, conduct Soldier readiness processing, train on various ranges, and meet annual requirements,” Johnson said. “First Army also validates the training units, which improves their overall readiness, enabling them to prepare for future operations by getting reps and sets on collective training.”
The multi-echelon exercise incorporates both simulated and live reporting from MFGIs in order to drive reporting and mission command processes at the brigade, division, and First Army headquarter levels. The exercise further enables participating units to rehearse and refine processes and procedures that would be vital to a Large Scale Contingency Operation.
For as Maj. Jeffrey Porter, G3 training exercise planner, explained, “Pershing Strike is a FORSOM requirement that we stand up a non-active MFGI…to test its infrastructure and capabilities to meet the standard for what we need to handle if the ball drops. They need to go through training and validation before they go to their designated deployment areas.”
Other participants include units from the U.S. Army Reserve, the Mississippi Army National Guard, Florida Army National Guard, and Tennessee Army National Guard, to include the 290th Military Police Company, the 926th Engineer Battalion, and the 113th Military Police Company, and several brigade combat teams. The exercise is also incorporating First Army enterprise partners such as Army North, U.S. Forces Command, Installation Management Command, and Cyber Command.
Lines of effort emphasized throughout the exercise include home station mobilization, training equipment sets (i.e., how equipment gets to deploying units), and unit movement in a contested environment. In the latter, units must move using only tactical communications while having no access to e-mail or cell phones.
“Every single training range is being used the entire time,” Porter said. “The railhead is used, there are MP brigades, the Soldier readiness process is engaged, as is reception, staging, onward movement and integration. We are finding out what is working and not working in order to fine tune individuals and units. We are getting down and dirty, to see what the pros and cons are, what are the constraints and friction points.”
All this helps to refine and improve the processes.
“Last year was our first year of doing this. We are still in a crawl phase and we’re trying to get to a walk phase,” Porter said. “We’re getting a lot of enterprise partner support. The growth we’re seeing across the board, I think, is what (First Army Commanding General Lt. Gen. Antonio Aguto Jr.) is looking at. He’s looking at getting at those lines of efforts he wants to focus on because he sees that as a win for First Army and for every MFGI that we do this for.”
The goal is for all the hard work, planning, and coordination to pay dividends when it matters most.
“At the conclusion of this exercise, we are successful if we have demonstrated the ability to conduct LSMO at an inactive MFGI. We are successful if we meet the commander’s training objectives and overall intent for each iteration, and use lessons learned to grown into a larger exercise incorporating enterprise partners in years to come,” Johnson said. “If we are able to test the MFGIs’ capacity and capability, as well as capture Reserve Component units flowing into MFGIs and establishing a shared understanding through our common operating picture, this would be a success.”