FORT McCOY, Wis. –
Over 5,000 Soldiers from over 80 units stationed around the country have traveled to Fort McCoy, Wis., to take part CSTX 86-18-04, the first Combat Support Training Exercise (CSTX) of the season. The exercise is directed by the 84th Training Command and hosted by the 86th Training Division. The 86th TD hosts two such exercises yearly amongst a slew of smaller scale drills that aim to increase the total force readiness of America’s Army Reserve.
As the global political and military climates fluctuate, so too must the Army in how it conducts its training. The aim of the 84th Training Command and 86th Training Division respectively, is to create a realistic platform that emulates what can be expected on today’s battlefield. As the perceived external threat begins to change form from what many have grown accustomed to it is imperative that the platform addresses the change quickly, appropriately, and accurately.
With any kind of variation, there will be a series of growing pains as annotated by the Deputy Commanding Officer of the 86th Training Division, Col. Ron Meredith. “We have to be able to be as accurate as possible when it comes to depicting a precise picture of the threat that American Forces face today. We have spent over a decade training for the current environment that has revolved around non-traditional forces and as we guide our strategy toward combating near-peer elements there will be some discomfort in the field.”
Indeed, discomfort can be perceived throughout the training audience as the focus shifts back toward the inclusion of warrior skills training, which encompass all the basic Soldier skills required of troops to operate in a combat environment within the updated training model.
A Combat Support Training Exercise is one of the first steps in preparing units to go into combat. Units are placed in an austere environment and asked to engage in scenarios that emulate what might be expected in a real-world setting. Observer/Coach-Trainers (OC/T), experienced Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers, are then tasked to observe and guide the units as they interact with the scripted situations. After which, the units will have received an evaluation of their current state of readiness in terms of training proficiency and subsequently provided a yearly training plan in which to implement.
The location of the CSTX brings its own set of challenges to the training audience, as well. Wisconsin is lush and vibrant, with thick vegetation and tree-lined hills that span to the horizon. It is historically both hot and damp in the summertime with forests riddled with poisonous plants, and home to an intimidating mosquito and tick population that, at times, offers something of a significantly uncomfortable atmosphere. With some acclimation and preparation though, Soldiers recognize that Fort McCoy offers arguably one of the most beautiful and regal training environments in the United States, which more than makes up for the intermittent hot day or mosquito bite.
The significance of an exercise such as this one cannot be understated. The demand of Soldiers in the Reserve of the United States Army is great. Soldiers are expected to be able to perform their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), maintain personal readiness, and ensure competence in warrior-tasks and battle drills, all while simultaneously upholding a civilian occupation. It’s the dual status of Soldiers in the Reserve that makes the organization extremely capable. Men and women of the organization are diverse in their skill sets and bring external knowledge and capabilities to the table that don’t exist in the active component, and the power thereof cannot be undervalued. With the addition of Ready Force X (RFX) units into the mix, the need to maintain a heightened state of proficiency and readiness within the reserve component increases dramatically.
For those who may be unaware, an RFX unit is a predesignated unit that is designed to be the first to respond given the necessity to do so within an extremely short time frame. Whereas a standard Army Reserve unit may take a couple of months to prepare for a deployment, the expectation of an RFX unit is to be able to deploy in a mere fifteen days. It’s because of this that the gravity placed on optimal performance at the CSTX is momentous.
Unfortunately, the process is not so cut and dry as it may appear on surface level. To properly prepare for an exercise of such magnitude, indeed the largest that the Army Reserve conducts, the expectation is that units will have spent several months training on their warrior tasks and battle drills to maintain proficiency, so that when the time comes to attend the Combat Support Training Exercise there will be nothing but smooth sailing ahead, which is not always the case, thus, the introduction of the “lethal warrior” stage of this year’s exercise.
Enter the OC/T. “This year’s model is different than ever before (with the introduction of “lethal warrior”) and my main weapon system is the OC/T, because without them, nothing happens,” stated Brig. Gen. Tripp Bowles, Commanding General of the 86th Training Division, during the final after action review (AAR) of the exercise. “I’m very pleased with lethal warrior; if I wasn’t, we’d have sat here for days, and it’s thanks to the OC/T’s on the ground” he continued, addressing his staff, “we are here for readiness, we train soldiers, and it was a solid performance.”
By re-introducing some of the basic skills required of soldiers, the training audience receives a more well-rounded experience during the Combat Support Training Exercise. Because this year was the first year of the change, there was skepticism as to the eventual outcome. With a set number of days to complete the exercise in its entirety, the gamble of adding an utterly new element on short notice was risky, but a risk that paid off handsomely by the conclusion.
“This has been one of the most well-run exercises in my experience,” stated Col. Meredith amidst a team of senior leaders of the 86th Training Division, “our objective (here) is to provide trained, ready soldiers in the case of a war, and we have done just that”.
The men and women of the 86th Training Division will return to duty in August to conduct the second Combat Support Training Exercise of the season, fulfilling their obligation to be the driving force behind the operational readiness of America’s Army Reserve.