FORT MCCOY, WI –
Smoke swirled around Potter and his squad, as the sounds of falling artillery echoed through the clearing his team was driving through. He heard yells of pain, directives being shouted to provide security, and team leaders identifying the positions of the ambushers. Potter followed his training, working with his team to identify and eliminate those wishing harm on his unit. He dismounted from his vehicle, and moved through gas bombs and injured comrades to protect the rest of the Soldiers around him. He looked down the sights of his weapon, and prepared to take another shot when he heard, “end exercise, end exercise, end exercise!”
Potter, a horizontal construction engineer with the 702nd Engineer Company, 463rd Engineer Battalion, was participating in counter-improvised-explosive-device training lanes on Fort McCoy, Wis., as a part of Warrior Exercise 86-21-02. The rounds, explosives, and scenarios were simulated, but the Soldiers’ reactions were not.
WAREX is an annual training event integrating both combat support and combat service support assets to train United States Army Reserve Soldiers. The exercise facilitates opportunities to proactively handle real-world scenarios with competency in infantry tactics, defensive posture, vertical and horizontal construction, convoy operations and maintenance, communication planning and security, and media operations. WAREX 86-21-02, beginning the week of June 8, unites more than 75 U.S. Army Reserve units from across the country. The training events build warfighting functionality, and enhance mission command proficiency in support of the Army Reserve's mission to bring leadership, energy resilience, and execution to the force.
The CIED training event Potter took part in was just one of many in which he participated during WAREX from June 8-19, 2021.
“Exercises like this make me feel a lot more prepared to do what I need to do in the Army,” he said. “I love exercises like this because I get to operate big equipment [as an engineer], and work on actual Army skills like convoys and how to stop attacks.”
Lt. Col. Chuck Taylor, battalion commander of the 463rd Engineer Bn., says that exercises like WAREX are important for two reasons: to provide evaluations for the units, and to train and instill confidence in the Soldiers.
“WAREX specifically is an opportunity for commanders to be validated on these different skilsets, and for those validations to yield specific, quantifiable information that helps them improve their unit’s capabilities and their ability to lead,” said Taylor. “For all other Soldiers, being able to do this, to have this experience, ...it builds resilience, professionalism, teamwork, and the confidence in the fact that they can get the job done.”
WAREX is spread out over Fort McCoy, Wis. Most units stay in austere field conditions on one of four tactical assembly areas.
Pfc. Trevor Phillips, a horizontal construction engineer with the 702nd Engineer Company, is staying on TAAJustice. The entirety of the 702nd is sleeping in tents, standing guard, and participating in all activities necessary to sustain and defend their base 24 hours per day, for the duration of the exercise.
“I enjoy being in the field,” Phillips said. “It gives you a sense of camaraderie that brings everyone together. Everyone is experiencing the ups and downs with you. When it’s crazy hot outside and you’re feeling miserable, you look to your left and right and realize that we’re all in this together.”
This is a vital part of the mission, explained Taylor. Both the 702nd and the 357th Engineer Companies are preparing for deployment . This exercise is not only about validating skills for them. It’s doubly important because those units need the confidence that they can accomplish their mission, and to hone the skills they’ll be using on a daily basis in the very near future.
But WAREX provides benefits beyond just generating, validating, and fine-tuning Army skills; it returns U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers to their communities as better citizens.
“These individuals come out of a military experience like [WAREX], and return to their communities with more confidence,” Taylor continued. “They’re also building leadership and the ability to bring teams together. Whether that Soldier is charged with leading two to three other Soldiers at a fire-team level, or up to 40 as a platoon sergeant or platoon commander, you’re getting and exercising those command principles and those leadership skills.”
Generally speaking, Soldiers don’t get an opportunity to practice these skills or use these tools, Taylor added. While the tasksReserve Soldiers accomplishat regular battle assemblies are very critical, it’s not often they get their hands on a carpenter’s tool kit, or get to be in the operator seat of some of this heavy equipment. Being able to get out into a field environment and use that equipment is really important to the Soldier, the commander, the Army, and their communities.
Potter agrees with his battalion commander on that point.
“Doing the things I’ve done in the Army has allowed me to level-up in my civilian life,” he said. “I get to go places and do things that not a lot of people get to experience. Knowing that I can do my job, get to where I need to go, and get the job done makes me feel a lot better about taking on those experiences.”
So, as the smoke cleared from the training area, and Potter regrouped with the rest of his company to review their performance during the event, he said he was excited to be a part of an exercise like WAREX. He felt ready to take on whatever his upcoming deployment would throw at him, from contingency operations against a hostile force, to helping accomplish the objectives of a partner nation, or simply serving side-by side with close friends.
“I joined to stay with my best friend, and to defend the United States of America,” Potter said. “Knowing how much I’ve learned from the Army, and knowing I’m a better person; it makes me feel good about my time, and excited to do more exercises like this.”