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NEWS | Sept. 20, 2018

JRTC rotation offers realism through multi-component training effort

By Story by Patricia Dubiel, Fort Polk Public Affairs Office U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command

Management of these varied facets is the responsibility of military experts from each field. It is how the military fights and the way it must train. At the Joint Readiness Training Center, multi-component training takes place during every rotation.

Maj. David Arroyo, information operations senior observer/controller/trainer with JRTC Operations Group, said rotational training builds better Army officers, NCOs and Soldiers because it allows them to get some experience using the training they receive at home station. “Here they have to actually exercise what they have learned, and if anything goes wrong they’ll be able to see exactly what went wrong,” said Arroyo.

“While they are at JRTC, they will make more detailed decisions, and spend more time coming up with solutions that are either doctrinally based, or that require out-of-the-box thinking, depending on the problem set they encounter.”

For Rotation 18-09, some of the parties involved with training included the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Illinois Army National Guard; 2nd Battalion, 116th Combat Armor Brigade of the Idaho Army National Guard; 182nd Air Wing, U.S. Air Force; Marine Corps Security Force Regiment; Reservists from U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command and Kansas U.S. Army Reserve Aviation Command; Texas Army National Guard; a slew of civilian roleplayers and Fort Polk’s own 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment serving as the opposing force.

Additionally, a team of civilian employees track the Soldiers and equipment in the fight, document actions on the ground with video assets, and set up automated targets and pyrotechnics to enhance realism — not to mention the numerous observer/controller/trainers from JRTC Operations Group who provide invaluable guidance and facilitate after action reviews for the rotational units.

The result is well-trained, deployable units that understand how to work together — within their teams, other units, their brother services and local forces.

With so many units and assets involved in the exercise, cooperation is paramount. Maj. Michael Kowalski, operations officer, 33rd IBCT, Illinois ANG, said one of the greatest examples of multi-component cooperation has been with the Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller/Tactical Air Control Party personnel.

“It starts off with integration right from the beginning, when we first hit the ground at the intermediate staging base — getting all our stuff together — that is the first step,” said Kowalski. “Next, we assign them directly to our subordinate units so it’s very clear to whom they report and are integrated with. The third step is communicating our expectations. For the duration of this whole rotation, the JTACs have been awesome.”

Lt. Col. Matthew Garrison, executive officer, 33rd IBCT, said unit training objectives still have to be met, even in a dynamic environment like the JRTC.

“Our objective is to train the brigade and brigade staff on full-spectrum operations using decisive action (offense/defense), and conduct a joint forcible entry into the training site,” he said. “These are tasks that we have never done as a brigade combined with our supporting units. This is a first-time training experience for all of us.”

One of the challenges that must be addressed before multi-component training can begin is early communication and resourcing.

“It can be tough to identify who is really going (to the rotation),” said Garrison. “We have to plan and build relationships at least six months out to get a clear picture of what (other units’) capabilities are when they integrate into the brigade. But we experienced success in planning the mission with all of our support elements during the entry into the training site. We accounted for all of our equipment, got into a combat configuration within 24-48 hours and took the fight to the enemy.”

Garrison said multi-component training is a good reflection of how operations are conducted downrange.

“It is how we fight and win any engagement, including large-scale conflict,” said Garrison. “It is important for junior-level troops to work with their command post partners, like the Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams, or FASTs and the Air Force JTACs. Some of these Soldiers have never seen or understood what these guys do. As a National Guard unit, we are very small and insulated all year long, so for (the Soldiers) to see these components out here with us is a broadening experience.”

Air Force Capt. Paul Hauter, 169th Air Support Operations Squadron, 182nd Air Wing, U.S. Air Force, said the key to cooperation between brother services is in understanding that there are differences in how each service addresses a situation.

“We are two different services, so the way the Air Force thinks will be different from how the Army thinks,” said Hauter.

“Addressing that before we go downrange is extremely important. At JRTC, we get a look at their tactical operations center environment while they get a look at how we’re going to work and what we can do for them, and they also see how we communicate (up and down the chain of command), because it is different.”

Hauter said creating that understanding between the services fosters cohesion.

“It’s great overall training, and we’re getting that understanding established so that everyone down to the lower levels can benefit from it,” he said.

Marine Corps Capt. Phillip Richard, a guest OCT with the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment, observed the training objectives of the FAST, who were tasked with providing security for the U.S. consulate in Dara Lam, a village in the JRTC training area, or “the box.”

“We are used to operating in Marine-heavy environments, so jumping into an environment with another service that may have different expectations can be difficult,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to make last-minute adjustments to make things work, but we accomplish that. Inevitably, no plan survives first contact, especially in a training exercise like this where the brigade is tasked to do so many things. But the big take away for us is that we can execute as close to real world operations as we can in a joint environment while still meeting our own training objectives.”

Capt. John Reed, Bravo Company, 412th Civil Affairs Battalion, 360th Civil Affairs Brigade, from Columbus, Ohio, an Army Reserve unit, said there is a steep learning curve for integrating civil military operations, or CMO, into any organization, but the rotation experience has helped.

“A focus on CMO is hard to achieve, but we have been able to integrate and accomplish our civil affairs team mission,” said Reed. “The group of people that have been brought together here is good. A training event like this brings people together, and that unit cohesion can’t always be accomplished with home station training. This environment has taught us how to work with other units.”

Army Reservist Capt. Brad Overton, 318th Psychological Operations Company, U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command out of St. Louis, Missouri, said his unit’s role for the rotation is to support the 33rd IBCT with psychological operations, and exercise the ability to integrate with another unit at company, brigade and battalion levels.

“It can be challenging because we are not organic to the unit. We may have met at different meetings, but having to learn how they operate as they learn how we operate, and how to connect as one unit can be tough,” said Overton. “(But once we advise) the units how we can best serve them, we get to see how they work our teams into their operations. National Guard units don’t usually work with psy ops, so they learn from us as much as we learn from them.”

As these components mesh to achieve an objective, processes begin to smooth out as everyone becomes more comfortable with their role in the operation.

“It’s one thing when you are training with one battalion alone, but when we start to layer on all the enablers — psy ops, civil affairs, aviation, FAST — that’s a hard thing to get your hands around. The more layers of complexity, the longer and more difficult it is to synchronize,” said Kowalski.

“It is vital to have those assured channels of communication and the integration of those (enablers). This is the way it should be done and the way it is done downrange.”