FORT KNOX, Ky. –
Over about a two-week span, five USACAPOC (A) units participated in back-to-back exercises that are used to train and evaluate Soldiers on their unit mission essential task list and individual military occupational specialties. They participated in a bridge Combat Support Training Exercise (CSTX) and a USACAPOC (A) specific Command Post Exercise (CPX) Although having training events, such as a CPX and a CSTX, are common in the military, it’s not common to do them back-to-back, and almost rarely done simultaneously.
This particular mission was unique in that fact, as you had Soldiers at the battalion level who had to complete lethal warrior tasks, do a company-level convoy support training exercise, and finally civil affairs specific lanes. For U.S. Army Sergeant Russell Baker, a civil affairs Soldier with the 489th Civil Affairs Battalion, this training served so many functions.
“Many of us started at Cold Steel, where we did our lethal warrior tasks. We then moved here and had to do a train-the-trainer type thing with the rest of our unit. So there were many tasks that we may have felt a little rusty on that we did multiple times. Then we became a validation source for our peers and as we watched them complete the same tasks, we were able to see different ways to accomplish the same mission. Having this experience added so many tools and resources to our timeline.”
“Although the timeline for these three exercises were extremely tight, it really worked out doing everything at once. For most of us Army Reserve Soldiers, we have to do lethal warrior tasks once a month at our battle assembly and then our CA specific training at our Annual Training. Of course doing the stuff throughout the year makes it hard to become and stay proficient, but doing it back to back-to-back like this has really pushed the muscle memory boundaries,” Baker continued.
While Soldiers at the company level were completing their tasks, Soldiers at the battalion level, were tracking unit movements, planning all missions, receiving reports from the company level on status and progress, and receiving feedback and guidance from the division level staff. However, in a real-world training environment, they were not located with either the company or division elements. For Staff Sgt. Brenton Bulrice, a civil affairs Soldier with the 351st Civil Affairs Command, who also served as the Battalion Battle Operations Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge, this training had many challenges that helped his unit become more aware of solutions that they wouldn’t have come to before.
“When we first got on ground, we had a clear plan with clear objections. Then within hours changes started coming left and right. We would be in the middle of adjusting one thing when they would change it again. Being that we couldn’t just go talk to someone we were relying on communication, such as email and phones. Overall, it was very frustrating and nothing like any other mission we have ever done.”
“As we started to get into a good battle rhythm though, we realized that to succeed in our mission, we had to remain flexible in the situation, and rely on the fact that our counterparts are doing what they are supposed to be. Honestly, as frustrating as this was at first, I’m glad things were the way they were, because for too long we have been training in a garrison world, where things tend to be smoother. In a deployed environment though, we need to remember how to overcome and adapt because rarely do things go as planned when overseas.”
While this was going on, division-level staff had the task of establishing the objectives, monitoring and evaluating all levels of training, and providing evaluation, validation, and feedback. For Lt. Col. Richard Snodgrass, who is the commander of 431st CA BN in Little Rock, Arkansas and Millington, Tennessee, who also was acting as the Operations Officer / Chief of Training for the 352nd CACOM says the division-level staff played a vital role in this mission as well.
“Our role in the CPX/CSTX was to provide an external evaluation to five tactical companies as they go through scenarios designed to test their skills in their Department of the Army directed METL tasks.”
Snodgrass also hoped to draw from his own personal experience to help others by providing a baseline of "what right looks like" to other units who are participating. He also sees this as something the Army, as a whole, will benefit from.
“The value this mission brings is the ability for a commander to receive an external evaluation on the capabilities of his or her companies, compare them with their own assessment prior to the exercise and then seek out additional training opportunities and points of focus for the future. Everything we do is geared toward Readiness and providing company commanders an opportunity to receive an assessment on the capabilities of their unit, and allows them to direct their actions toward improving their Readiness.”
Snodgrass also says that is becomes vital to have missions like these, because it brings numbers off of the paper.
“Commanders are constantly checking reports to see where their units stand. However, it’s one thing to see on a report, we are whatever percent for working equipment and trained personal. The same number becomes a lot more realistic when you have to exercise a massive exercise like this with your own equipment. Now you realize some equipment is broke, and some Soldiers aren’t as trained as we thought they were.”
“So now, commanders are no longer in a garrison environment where they brief that everything is good, or ask for help when something isn’t good. Now they are in a tactical setting where we have to fix the problem immediately and continue the mission. This will drive readiness numbers through the roof, and ensure that all units are capable, combat ready and lethal.”