Active-duty and reserve component forces from the United States are working with NATO allies and partners during Exercise Anakonda 16.
Brig. Gen. Arlan DeBlieck, deputy commanding general of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command and commanding general of the Army Reserve’s 7th Mission Support Command, and six staff members visited more than a half-dozen training sites across Poland. He and the staff spoke to active and reserve Soldiers about interoperability with each other, the Polish military and other NATO allies and partners.
Anakonda 16 is a Polish-led training event that takes place every two years. The Polish national exercise seeks to train, exercise and integrate Polish national command and force structures into a joint, multinational environment.
This year, more than 31,000 service members from 24 countries are taking part in the exercise, including more than 13,000 from the United States.
“It was the total Army in Europe leading an effort, establishing a baseline for how to do future operations in Europe,” DeBlieck said. “All the components were heavily involved and were doing a superb job.”
The exercise saw an integration of active duty and reserve component Soldiers from the U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard into a total force. The key to a successful exercise was interoperability.
“You couldn’t tell one component from another,” DeBlieck said.
Each component brings different skill sets to the exercise, said Lt. Col. Steven Dowgielewicz, commander of the active-duty 39th Transportation Battalion (Movement Control), headquartered for the exercise in Toruń, Poland. An MCB regulates Army movement on main supply routes and alternate supply routes using common-user transportation assets.
For example, many of the Army Reserve truck drivers from the 428th Transportation Co. drive trucks all over the United States in their civilian jobs. They are very skilled at securing their cargo, because they lose money if the load arrives in less than perfect condition.
“It seems like small things, but that’s an expertise we don’t have,” he said.
Another instance of sharing best practices between Army component services happened last year.
In 2015, the 39th MCB had some Army Reserve mechanics from the 66th Truck Co. on an Overseas Deployment for Training mission work in their shop for two-and-a-half weeks. The 66th brought Soldiers, who had been mechanics in the civilian world for their entire careers. The Army Reserve Soldiers from the 66th Truck Co. taught the active-duty Army mechanics new techniques that unit is still using.
“Mechanics in the summer time, ODTs, I’ll take them any day of the week,” Dowgielewicz said.
However, reserve component Soldiers may not know theater-specific things that their active duty counterparts deal with every day, like how to get diplomatic clearances and customs clearances to travel from country to county in Europe, Dowgielewicz said.
So, exercises like this one allow the Reserve and Guard forces to learn, develop some expertise and grow, he added.
For Anakonda, one such Army Reserve unit has been the U.S. Army Reserve’s 635th Movement Control Team from Kansas, which is working at four locations around Poland, coordinating transportation by air, sea and rail.
“It’s a great opportunity for them,” Dowgielewicz said.
Capt. Brenda Jamison is a member of a 4th Infantry Division Movement Control Team, which worked at the Polish port of Szczecin.
She said her team’s integration with National Guard Soldiers of the 230th Sustainment Brigade from Tennessee was outstanding. The active and National Guard Soldiers’ job was to ensure smooth movement of equipment from the port to the locations where it would spend the exercise.
“As soon as my team landed on ground we introduced ourselves to the 230th SB leaders and started discussing the process for port clearance and made certain we were synchronized with our operations,” she said. “In advance, we also began to talk over redeployment operations. The 230th SB provided billeting on the spot for my team and rolled us up under their head count for class I support.”
The Army Reserve’s 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, as another example, was the tip of the spear for the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, working to ensure an organized flow of forces into Europe and providing sustainment to the troops, DeBlieck said.
The 364th ESC is normally aligned regionally to United States Pacific Command, but came to Poland for Anakonda 16. The unit had to quickly become familiar with conditions in Europe.
The Army Reserve and National Guard headquarters staff members don’t work together on a daily basis as their active duty counterparts do, Dowgielewicz said. When they arrive in theater, they have to get to know each other and the staffs from the units around them.
“For headquarters, you really need a spin-up period before they get here,” he said. “It becomes a steep learning curve at the staff level.”
For reserve component units, home station training focused on warfighting functional skills is essential, said Maj. Ryan M. Wood, the executive officer for the 7th MSC’s 209th Digital Liaison Detachment, in Bemowo Piskie, Poland for the exercise.
“If I don’t know my craft as a Fire Support Officer, how can I liaison the complex tasks required of the fires elements in both the U.S. and a foreign headquarters?” he said.
Reserve component forces should be brought into the planning process earlier, DeBlieck said. Many had only about six months advance notice.
Most units need at least a full year to “form, norm, and be ready to perform,” he added. This would give them time to work on roles and responsibilities, conduct a thorough mission analysis and rehearse.
“They are doing very well, but they could be doing better if they were engaged in the planning process sooner,” he said.
Polish forces had to learn how to integrate U.S. and NATO troops into their exercise. In the past, Anakonda has been a command post exercise for Polish forces.
“They’ve made a commitment to NATO and demonstrated their resolve by using Poland as an exercise venue,” DeBlieck said.
Wood has been working with Polish forces on a limited basis for this exercise, but has worked with them in the past.
“From my previous experience and interaction with the Polish military I have found that they are very mission focused and have a strong bias for action,” he said. “Gracious hosts and very welcoming, the Polish Military are excellent partners.”
For Anakonda 16, the 209th was tasked to help interface with the Latvian military, Wood said.
“This is my first time working with them and I am very impressed with their discipline and professionalism,” he said. “It is nice to see how interoperable our Armies really are in planning and execution of Land Component tasks.”
The 209th DLD’s mission is to provide liaison between a U.S. Headquarters, the 4th Infantry Division in Anakonda 16; and a foreign headquarters, in this case the Latvian Light Infantry Brigade. Their job is to ensure communication, mutual understanding and unity of purpose and action, Wood said.
“The 'digital’ portion of our title comes in the fact that we use Army mission command (computer) systems in which to conduct our liaison mission,” he said.
Reserve component units already in Europe, such as those in the 7th MSC, have a built in advantage, Wood said.
“The DLDs have to be able to integrate with both the active component U.S. Army and a foreign headquarters,” he said. “This makes our integration challenging, but as a Reserve force stationed in Germany, we build confidence in our ability to communicate with foreign partners each day.”
Further, Wood’s civilian job is in the G-6 staff at United States Army Europe, but his previous job was as an exercise planner for USAREUR, and he still knows the USAREUR exercise planning staff.
As a result, Wood leveraged his civilian skills and relationships to enhance his reserve job by writing the taskings for the DLDs taking part in Anakonda 16.
Further, units in Europe can work together over a period of time.
The 7th MSC and the 39th MCB have developed a strong relationship since the summer of 2015, when the 7th stood up the 446th Transportation Battalion (Movement Control), which is a reserve counterpart to the 39th MCB, Dowgielewicz said.
The 39th was experiencing a very high operational tempo, with many Soldiers being away from their home station nine months out of the year, he said. The 7th MSC’s 446th MCB was able to reduce that to six months, by providing as many as 15-21 movement controllers at a time.
It was a balancing act, because the 7th MSC Soldiers had to use multiple funding streams to stay on duty, but the Reserve augmentation has been very successful, he added.
In addition, many of those reserve-component Soldiers had civil affairs skills, and were able to leverage experience in relationship-building and coordination to work with multiple countries and streamline the transportation and border crossing processes, Dowgielewicz said.
However, exercises like Anakonda will help NATO allies work together and build processes to overcome the challenges sovereignty presents, DeBlieck said. Freedom of movement has been a challenge when working to cross multiple international borders, he said.
“Over time, we will find solutions to these problems and still maintain the sovereignty of all the countries involved,” DeBlieck said.
The bottom line is that everyone must use their skills to work together.
“If you have competence in your job, you will be confident in your performance,” Wood said.
Being able to do the job well is the key for reserve units working in cooperation with allies, partners or other components, he said.
“Everybody was doing an excellent job of working together, including allies, partners and multiple components,” DeBlieck said after his tour of the exercise.