FORT MCCOY, Wis. –
The work of the Army Reserve does not stop, even in the midst of a global pandemic. Civil Affairs Soldiers from the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion used Fort McCoy as the backdrop for their cumulative training exercise July 14, as they prepare for an overseas deployment later this year.
“The way we’re training now is a little bit different,” said Lt. Col. Brian Krieck, commander, 432nd CA Bn., 308th Civil Affairs Brigade. “We’re doing a lot of things digitally. Usually, we’ll get in front of a big dry erase board and we’ll be drawing pictures of maps, different lines of communication that we want to get.”
The training adjustments and precautions have allowed Krieck and the Soldiers of this Green Bay, Wisconsin-based Army Reserve unit to replicate not just the training environment, but also challenges and obstacles the civil affairs teams might face as they work in disparate locations.
“What we’re doing now is we’re collaborating remotely. We have Soldiers who are in this exercise who are in different states,” Krieck said. “They’re able to connect, we’re able to see them and talk to them. We’ve got role players who are doing four or five different jobs for one Soldier. We take all that information and we pull that into a picture that’s simple and easy for the commander to understand.”
On this day, which is just one in a larger, final preparation exercise prior to deploying overseas, Soldiers are nestled in classrooms working in teams researching and discussing the fictional regions, people and leaders they are assigned.
“We’re really focused on making sure that we as a unit, as a company, we want to really make sure that we’re all working together and that we’re able to successfully integrate into one another’s mission,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Poole, a civil affairs team sergeant with Charlie Company, 432nd CA Bn. “There are a lot of different pieces when you have different civil affairs teams out and about in the communities and getting the right information to the right people is really what this training is about. We’re making sure that we understand all the processes to do that and that we’re successfully integrating them into our day-to-day missions.”
When Defense Department restrictions were imposed because of COVID-19 it changed the look and way in which training is conducted during these past few months. For this training, there are safety measures in place to ensure Soldiers as well as other participants remain healthy and ready to deploy.
“This is the same environment they’re going to operate in overseas,” said Col. Kelly M. Dickerson, commander, 308th Civil Affairs Brigade. “All the precautions we’re taking we can build into TTPs [Tactics, Techniques and Procedures], much like you would battle drills, and actually conduct them here in a training environment and bring them forward overseas.”
As the first unit from 308th CA Bde. to conduct a large-scale training event in the COVID training environment, Dickerson said these Soldiers are putting theories and plans into practice that will allow future training events to be better planned and prepared.
“It’s really important for us as we are the first element within our civil affairs command, so at the one-star level, to actually come together and train like this,” he said. “We’re piloting a lot of the things that the CDC and the DOD has provided to us as guidance and we’re taking those learnings and putting them into TTPs and sharing them across. What we do here, the successes that we have here and what we learn can be shared to a larger community throughout the Army Reserve and the Army as a whole.”
Those precautions, which include twice-daily temperature checks and symptom surveys, wearing of masks, socially distancing and an emphasis on cleaning standards, were an adjustment at first, but, according to the Soldiers, have become second nature.
“It’s becoming a behavior the more you do it,” said 1st Sgt. Corey Evenson, senior enlisted leader, Charlie Company, 432nd CA Bn. “The mask is just part of your uniform now. People are aware and I’ll tell you what, it’s different when you see other Soldiers and even civilians not doing the same thing as us.”
For civil affairs teams who use non-verbal communication and active listening as a large element of their duties, the required medical safety changes have forced them to be more aware of other communication skills.
“The biggest thing that I think is that you can’t smile at somebody, but when I smile, you can still see it in my eyes,” said Poole. “It’s really controlling all the other aspects of your face. It’s really being cognizant of the rest of your body as well. Getting outside and getting that social distancing so you can take your mask off, if you have that proper space and everybody feels comfortable in that situation.”
As the cumulative training exercise continues, the Soldiers of the 432nd CA Bn. will continue to hone and refine their skills as they prepare for a diverse mission.
“This is a great exercise so that we all know what the expectation is so that we’re keeping our Soldiers safe, we’re keeping our families safe, and we’re keeping our NATO partners safe. We’re not going to be a disease vector because that’s not the best way to support your allies,” said Krieck.