FORT MCCOY, W.I. –
After months of social distancing, the U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations (Command) came out swinging to pack a punch and start the training season with a logistically intense and task demanding Command Post Exercise – Functional (CPX-F) 21-02 which was held here from May 27 to June 17, 2021.
With over 370 Soldiers, 100 computers and 45 pieces of military equipment, the units of USACAPOC(A) occupied 16 buildings, 12 tents, along with a chunk of land on Fort McCoy, and that isn’t including the countless amounts of 550 cord and 100mph tape used to hold it all together.
The purpose of CPX-F 21-02 is to bring together the many functions of the USACAPOC(A)) team, allowing Soldiers opportunities they wouldn’t normally experience at home station. The reality of CPX-F is that the Soldiers return home being more knowledgeable about their job, other staff sections, and with the ability to work together – becoming stronger as a team than they are individually.
“We are able to use Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations, and Information Operations together in order to enhance those capabilities to help the commander on the battlefield manage civilian populations and convey important information to those populations in and around conflict areas,” said U.S. Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Michael M. Greer, deputy commanding general, USACAPOC(A) and CPX-F 21-02 exercise director. “Each of the units prepare for this exercise at home and becomes an expert in their individual piece of the puzzle. When they come together in this exercise, they’re able to plug in where they will plug in as if we were in a contingency operation overseas, or some other sort of natural disaster or any of the other missions we prepare for.”
Spc. Zachary Bendorf, 11th Psychological Operations Battalion, spent the majority of the CPX-F operating the Command Post of the Future (CPOF) computer system, learning the new equipment was a key takeaway for him from the exercise.
“The best part was actually learning something new,” enthused Bendorf. “I had never touched a CPOF machine until I got here and when I got here I was able to get into the training and throughout the exercise dig deeper into it.”
Bendorf also credited his time at CPX-F with better preparing him for his future in the U.S. Army Reserve as well.
“If I ever get deployed to a POTF (Psychological Operations Task Force), I’ll know what to expect now. I’ll be able to jump in knowing where to start and where to continue,” he explained.
Although the majority of CPX-F is a static event comprised of tactical operations centers with scenarios occurring on computers, the exercise does employ tactics to ensure that Soldiers and leaders are challenged in their environment.
“The exercise goes beyond just sitting around a table, having meetings or discussions,” said Greer. In order to enhance that, to bring realism to that training, we have civilian contractors that bring real world experience as Department of State, former Department of State employees, former military, and former government officials.”
These civilian contractors play the role of U.S. government civilians and local civilians during the exercise in order to prepare Soldiers for the types of government agencies and integration considerations they would face in country. With the extensive foreign service military experience, these role players know just what to say and do which allows commanders to think outside the box so they can explore situations and solutions in a new and innovative l manner.
Brian W. Wilhelm, future operations section assistant planner) USACAPOC(A), and former psychological operations Soldier, greatly appreciates the contribution of the contracting team.
“The background of these guys is actually who they are playing,” explained Wilhem. “They have been in that position in real life and they can put that flavor to it. It’s not like taking a JAG [judge advocate general lawyer] and saying he’s the ambassador. No, these guys know the roles they are playing because they’ve been paid to do that in real life working for the government.”
With role-players acting as presidents, ambassadors, religious leaders and international aid workers alongside Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations, and Information Operations Soldiers and military staff officers, the exercise is about as real as you can get outside of a host nation.
“This exercise gives commanders the opportunity to see how their units perform under stress and evaluate whether or not they are prepared to execute their mission immediately or if they need some sort of remedial training in certain aspects,” said Greer. “It helps identify those gaps so the commanders know what they have available, and the Army knows what it has available, should the need arise.”
For human resource specialist Spc. Chaylah Francis, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 11th POB, the real-world stress aspect of her job was highlighted in writing award recommendations for notional wounded and deceased Soldiers.
“I mostly took part in preparing awards for Soldiers who were unfortunately WIA (wounded in action) or KIA (killed in action)”,” explained Francis. “It’s a strength that I have and having that experience ‘in theater’ is a little bit different than I would have back home,” she concluded.
Even though the awards were for notional Soldiers, the emotions behind them were real and Francis was glad to have a team of Soldiers to lean on.
“The best part of the exercise was just being with my team. Being able to build that comradery, and really work together,” she said. “If I didn’t know something, my battle might have known and they were able to help me and what they didn’t know I was able to help and that collaboration amongst us is what made the experience better.”
Francis is sure that the skills learned at CPX-F 21-02 will assist her in bettering herself as a Soldier. The opportunity to brief senior officers, a first for the young specialist, will allow her to proceed more confidently when she’s asked questions back in garrison.
“I’ll take back more understanding of how S1 works within a theater,” she said. “It’s definitely different than when we are at peace time. I take away knowing regulations, being able to process quickly, connecting with other downtrace units and being able to verbalize correct information.”
The experiences of these Soldiers and their ability to carry those skills back to their units is exactly the goal of the CPX-F according to Greer.
“We want the Soldiers to walk away with the confidence to know that they can do their job that they’ve been prepared for, that they’re equipped for and that they’re ready to perform,” said Greer. “at the end of the day, this exercise gives Soldiers the confidence they need to do the job that they’re going to be expected to do.”