CSTX moves Soldiers out of FOBs and back to basic Soldier skills

By Master Sgt. Anthony L Taylor | 85th Support Command | Aug. 25, 2017

Fort McCoy, Wisconsin — Thousands of Army Reserve Soldiers joined service members from each U.S. branch of service, and military service personnel from foreign partner nations to train during the Army Reserve’s Combat Support Training Exercise 86-17-02 from August 5 – 25, 2017.

The 84th Training Command and the 86th Training Division’s CSTX 86-17-02 was a large-scale exercise focused on multi-echelon and multi-functional, realistic, tactical training to challenge units and improve the proficiency of leader and collective tasks.

“If the unit comes prepared to CSTX in their Mission Essential Task List, they come here and get to exercise their command post operations, and Soldiers actually get to exercise their individual tasks in through their collective tasks for their unit’s mission,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Ted Copeland, Command Sergeant Major, U.S. Army Reserve. “It’s critical for readiness (and) for objective T (the Army’s system designed to better measure a unit’s readiness).

Copeland further explained that the CSTX, as Soldiers know it, is changing and units will need to become more mobile and return to the basics.

“We’re getting away from the (Forward Operating Base) concept. That’s how we had to fight in Afghanistan or Iraq, but that may not be how we have to fight in the future,” said Copeland. “Units have to be agile, pick up their headquarters, and move in a short time frame for survivability. Getting back to the basics is Soldiers just being Soldiers first and their (Military Occupational Specialty) second. They have to realize that our old term: Shoot, Move and Communicate is important. (Soldiers) have to be able to fight and survive against the enemy or their MOS skills are not relevant.”

The Army Reserve’s 85th Support Command, partnered with First Army, provided a critical piece in support of the CSTX to train the force. Many of the observer coach / trainers on the ground, assigned to 85th SPT CMD but operationally controlled by First Army, worked with the training units in the planning stages, and throughout the exercise to enhance their readiness levels.

“The 85th (Support Command) is still providing roughly half of the OC/Ts for First Army,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Eric Nordy, Command Chief Warrant Officer, 85th Support Command. “There are three of our battalions involved in this CSTX providing OC/Ts and providing logistical support.”

Army Reserve Lt. Col. Mike LaFontaine, battalion commander for 1st Battalion, 340th Training Support Regiment, 181st Multi-functional Training Brigade, was from one of those battalions providing training support with approximately 30 OC/Ts and support staff.

“We are responsible for the OC/T mission of all the (military police) units here at CSTX,” said LaFontaine.

Throughout the guarded detention facility, from guard tower to guard tower, OC/Ts worked with MP Soldiers in detention facility operations from receiving and in-processing detainees, to ensuring the safeguard and custody of detainees, external security, and riot control.

Alongside OC/T support, MP training units assisted each other in becoming more proficient in their specific skill sets.

“Four steps forward!” shouted Spc. Donald Tully, Military Police from the 344th Military Police Company, Middletown, Connecticut.

“Four steps forward!” repeated the shield team.

“Move!” shouted Tully.

“One, two, three, four, get back!” shouted the shield team.

“They saw us doing riot (control) training and asked us to give a little instruction on it,” said Army Reserve Sgt. Kyle Cordero, Military Police from the 344th MP CO, and a law enforcement officer in his civilian capacity. “So we demonstrated first with our guys, and now we’re running them through the basic principles of riot control, starting off with a shield team. That’s the cornerstone of riot control.”

Many miles away within the training area, approximately 45 Army Reserve OC/Ts, from the 2nd Battalion, 361st Training Support Regiment, 181st MFTB, trained chemical, and firefighter units and a Movement Control Team. Some of these units have been identified as Army Early Response Force, units that must quickly deploy.

“Part of this is getting back to the last 16 years fighting the War on Terror. (Service members) have operated out of FOBs. You go to an area and there’s a built up area and everybody’s contained,” said Army Reserve Lt. Col. John Smalley, battalion commander of 2nd Battalion, 361st Training Support Regiment, 181st MFTB, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “We’re getting ready to fight a near-peer competitor, so we’re going back to tactical assembly areas. The generation that is in the army now, (which) has come up for the last 16 years, fought on FOBs. – We have to go back and train that skill set because we haven’t done it in basically a decade and a half.”

“We’re looking at base defense. Are they setting up fighting positions with interlocking fields of fire? – Can they tie into the units on their left and right, and defend a larger tactical assembly area?” said Smalley. “That’s what we’re doing here because later in their (field training exercise), they’ll go out and do their chemical mission.”

Army Reserve Lt. Col. Tim Campbell, battalion commander of the 1st Battalion, 383rd Training Support Regiment, 181st MFTB, explained that he is on the ground with his OC/Ts, and the training unit’s leadership and Soldiers everyday to further emphasis the significance of basic Soldier skills.

“We’re hoping that they continue to sharpen those skills and they go back to the basics, and get away from the crutch of the digital battlefield,” said Campbell. “Pull out that handheld map and start reading it because map reading is a perishable skill and all of these skills are perishable.”

Campbell added that the mission is always changing, and Soldiers need to always be ready to adjust as the mission updates.

“The truth changes as we stand here today,” said Campbell. “We’re preparing for Kuwait, however the truth may change to be, who knows? The Horn of Africa, anywhere.”

Sgt. First Class Miranda Herrmann, an Army Reserve OC/T assigned to the 2/361 TSB who works as a medical laboratory scientist in her civilian capacity, shared that this was her first year working as an OC/T and it is challenging, but she has a lot of responsibility while here.

“It’s hot. It’s long hours, long days (and) this is my first year doing this, so I’ve never done anything like this before as an OC/T,” said Herrmann. “The intent of all of this is to try to minimize as much mobilization time as possible.

Herrmann added that in the near future mobilizations, ahead of deployments, could be limited to a unit’s medical portion, so training exercises like the CSTX would be a unit’s time where they need to meet their readiness level.

Herrmann’s training unit, the 693rd Quartermaster Company, from Bell, California, was one of many units repeatedly attacked in training scenarios throughout the exercise. One ambush that the 693rd QM CO encountered was during a water delivery request to a local village.

“We were delivering class 1 water, but we got hit. One of our rear vehicles went down, so we had to engage and had one (Soldier) wounded,” said Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Byron Molina. “We got hit with an RPG, a grenade and small arms fire. (The wounded Soldier) got hit in the shoulder, and had two bullets in the leg and one went through the head.”

The unit additionally had one of their Humvees hit and it reduced the convoy speed to five miles an hour. Molina responded quickly to secure a tow bar in place to pull their damaged vehicle. Immediately upon locking the tow bar, he rushed over to assist the injured Soldier, portrayed by a mannequin, covered in blood, cuts and tattered clothing.

“That’s what we do,” said Molina. “We work as a team and pitch in where needed. The casualty was one of my Soldiers.”

Molina, 50, has served in the Army Reserve for 12 years with one deployment to Mosul, Iraq and shared that he is an immigrant from Guatemala. He dreamed of joining the Army after seeing commercials and television shows in his native country. He barely made the age requirement to join at 38; but he said that he is a reserve Soldier and for that, he takes his job much more serious because he has limited time to train for a serious responsibility.

“(The training) really kicks into you because I really understand the situation; my freedom was taken away once,” said Molina referring to his life in Central America. “Here, you can help other people that fall into the same situation. – This is a serious job. We are reservists, so this is two weeks a year, but when we are on this game, we really go above and beyond to secure every single Soldier. If we don’t treat them properly, if we don’t do it right, he’s going to bleed to death, and that is what we’re trying to do here. “

Army Reserve Soldiers that participated in the exercise trained in an austere environment to understand the basics of Soldiering but also the basics of survival skills.

Lt. Col. Derek Morton, 86th Training Division, explained that various exercises also took place within CSTX 86-17-02, such as Patriot Warrior and Northern Lights. U.S. service members and foreign partner nations worked together in the training, here, and this exercise helped bring the armed forces and partner nations closer to mobilization and wartime readiness.

“We’re not trying to fight how we do presently right now; but there is a possibility (that) when we fight a near-peer competitor, that we’re going to depend on these nations for transportation, logistical support, and medical support,” said Morton. “So this training exercise, during the joint venture, gives us the training on that, and how to communicate.

“We’ve dominated the air, we’ve dominated the ground being a U.S. force, but we need to get back to the basics of that,” said Morton. “We need to get back to the basics of fighting a near-peer competitor, so that’s the idea of going back into the wood line.