JOLON, Calif. –
Soldiers no longer working on their warrior tasks and battle drills and only meeting virtually with their units and members of their squad. This scenario seemed far-fetched once, or something only seen in a post-apocalyptic movie.
However, when Army training nearly came to a standstill a year ago, Soldiers found themselves staring into the stark realization that this was the new normal, and some began to lose that collective trust many units spend developing during large-scale exercises.
It has been said the only thing certain in life is change, as was evident during a recent Combat Support Training Exercise, or CSTX, at Fort Hunter Liggett, California, one of the first opportunities for 4th Cavalry Multifunctional Training Brigade observer coach/trainers to get back to what they do best—teach, coach and mentor.
“I’m excited that we’re actually getting back to a point where we can engage face to face and help build that camaraderie in the formation,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Miles, the senior enlisted advisor of 4th Battalion, 410th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Cav. MFTB.
As the senior-ranking noncommissioned officer of the battalion, Miles said it was important for him to see and understand how his OC/Ts were coaching and training their U.S. Army Reserve partners, as well as interact with the training units to ensure the commander’s training objectives are being met.
“It’s important to understand how we can assist the training audience and properly prepare them to be successful at any engagement,” Miles said.
During CSTX 91-21-01, one of the methods to help prepare the training units for any scenario was the incorporation of UAVs.
“As our adversaries become more sophisticated, we need to match them. Unmanned aerial systems give this training relevance and starts to create that familiarization within the Soldiers,” Miles said. “Now, if [these] Soldiers encounter drones or UAS in theater, they’ll have that muscle memory and it will no longer be foreign to them because of the training they’re getting here.”
Other real-world training scenarios meant to test the tactical and technical acumen of the Soldiers included reacting to direct and indirect enemy fire, setting up a base defense, and responding to civilians on the battlefield.
“Using civilians on the battlefield and unmanned aerial systems led to more realistic training,” said Spc. Johnny Desius, a team leader from 304th Quartermaster Company, headquartered in Branford, Connecticut.
“When we deploy and have to face those situations in real life we’ll have our Standard Operating Procedure on how to react and be better equipped to protect ourselves or deescalate if necessary,” Desius said.
When in a combat environment, “you’re going to encounter so many different things,” he said.
A rotation to Fort Hunter Liggett and the National Training Center isn’t meant to be easy. Training units experience their toughest days in combat against a complex threat while in a controlled training environment, preparing them to face any near-peer threat. It is designed to wear you down physically, and mentally make mistakes.
“When we asked for aid in regards to masks, I think that there was a lot of blindness as far as cultural awareness and what is acceptable in a typical Arabic country,” said Grant Sturm, a civilian actor on the battlefield.
“There was one person that spoke to me very reassuringly,” Sturm added. “Just the emotional awareness of the situation is going to be what deescalates it.”
A hard lesson learned and one the unit can refine tactics, techniques and procedures to become better prepared to respond to in future training exercises and they continue down their path to a deployment overseas.
No unit or Soldier is perfect, however, and Sgt. 1st Class Alfonso Adorno, a platoon sergeant with 304th QM Co. said, he is proud of what his troops have been able to accomplish.
“To go from having virtual battle assemblies to actually getting back to being in a field environment, to see my Soldiers and actually go through this with them it inspires me to become a better leader,” Adorno said.
“The tutelage and teaching from the OC/Ts has been illuminating not only for my Soldiers but also for my leadership,” he said. “If the [exercise] was longer we could learn even more.”
Though their time together was limited, OC/Ts like Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Litterell from 4th Battalion, 410th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Cav. MFTB, noticed marked improvements within the training unit.
“The Soldiers in these units here haven’t really seen each other in 18 months, but they’ve still been able to get after it,” Litterell said. “I’d like to see how much further they can go as they continue to train up.”