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NEWS | Oct. 6, 2016

Exercise Lion Focus Prepares U.S. Army Africa, Reserve Partners for Crisis Intervention

By Sgt. 1st Class Alexandra Hays 79th Sustainment Support Command

VICENZA, Italy—In August 2014 senior planners in the Department of Defense met in Washington D.C., for Intergovernmental Tabletop Exercise ’14—an exercise aimed at preventing mass atrocities—when the Ebola crisis broke out.  

In the midst of that exercise and just before Lion Focus ’14, rehearsal became reality: U.S. Army Africa was put on alert to assist in Operation United Assistance in Liberia.

The real-world implications of conducting multicomponent, Joint, multinational and inter-agency rehearsals for crises are evident; the time to start learning about other agencies’ capabilities is not when a crisis is already underway. Exercise Lion Focus, a multicomponent, Joint exercise run by U.S. Army Africa, does just that—it provides a chance for organizations to come together and plan responses to plausible crises’ on the African continent.

“The goal of this exercise is to create an environment based on real-world operations on the African continent that U.S. Army Africa will likely encounter in the future,” said Navy Capt. Gregory L. Anderson, a Joint Staff training officer, based in Suffolk, Virginia.

This year’s Lion Focus scenario—which was only the second iteration of the exercise in its current state—was based on crisis response to an African nation, and eventual turnover to another Department of Defense agency.

Military and inter-agency partners attended about a week of academic instruction on the problem set and capabilities available, then analyzed, planned, and responded to the scenario, all in a realistic way. Lion Focus ’16 involved participants from all components—Active duty, Reserve, and National Guard—and all services, as well as international partners from Italy and British soldiers from the 102 Logistic Brigade out of Grantham, England.

“We try to keep the exercise as realistic as possible,” said Dave Crotchett, lead exercise planner for U.S. Army Africa, based in Vicenza, Italy.

Crotchett explained that Lion Focus prepares U.S. Army Africa for the follow-on exercise, Judicious Response, which is United States Africa Command’s (U.S. Army Africa’s higher headquarters) validating exercise.

“What we learned in Lion Focus [this year] was invaluable,” Crotchett continued.

He explained that this year there were about 175 participants augmenting U.S. Army Africa, including about 30 members from the 79th Sustainment Command (Support).

The 79th SSC, the second-largest command in the Army Reserve headquartered in Los Alamitos, California, took part in the exercise because it is being regionally aligned as a sustainment command with U.S. Army Africa. Soldiers from the 79th SSC who participated in the exercise performed duties just as they would in a deployed or crisis situation.

“We’re enhancing the readiness of our units through these exercises,” said Maj. Gen. Mark W. Palzer, commanding general of the 79th SSC, who visited his troops in Vicenza Sept. 16-19.

Palzer said this exercise is the first of many endeavors for the 79th SSC working with U.S. Army Africa and coalition partners. “The aim of these exercises is to get us to work together so that we each understand our role in the mission of supporting USARAF,” he said. “Exercises like these demonstrate our competencies to the Active Component, including asking what capability is needed and providing access to the human and logistical resources within our ranks.”  

Key to the 79th SSC’s involvement in the exercise was its partnership with the 102d Logistic Brigade. The British army unit, which is a blend of active duty and reserve troops, provided six soldiers to augment the 79th SSC.

British army Brig. Gen. David Eastman, commanding general of the 102 Logistic Brigade, also visited his soldiers participating in the exercise Sept. 20.

“We are really pleased that we’ve got this partnership with the 79th [SSC],” said Eastman during his visit. “We would like to take advantage of every opportunity to work together. We’re responsible for supporting the United Kingdom’s operations in Africa in the same way the 79th is, so it makes sense for us to work together … to eventually, potentially carry out combined operations together.”

During his visit, Eastman received a shift-change briefing and addressed both the 79th and his British soldiers. He explained that the British army’s reserve is currently undergoing a transition to becoming more operational just like the U.S. Army Reserve is.

“I think we can learn an awful lot of lessons from you on how to get more out of our reserve capability,” Eastman said. “In big picture terms, this is about us learning from you, us working together with the 79th [SSC] to develop that relationship and for the people themselves to develop their staff capability. Any partnership is based on relationships—so for me, this is a win-win.”

The 102 Logistic Brigade is Eastman’s first time in command of reserve soldiers, and he said he is pleased with their performance.

“I’m hugely impressed with reserve soldiers. They deliver significant effects and you can almost never tell them apart from their regular counterparts when they’re deployed. I have a huge respect for the commitment necessary to balance that trinity of family, civilian life, and work, and the military life—we just don’t have that problem in the regular force. They seem to balance it and deliver with a huge amount of effect, and I just find that deeply impressive.”

Eastman said that just about every operation the British army now conducts is in a multinational environment. Exercising for real-life missions in a multinational environment makes logical sense, he explained.

“As we develop our relationship with the 79th and as we start working more to develop what we are doing in Africa, it makes sense that we should get involved in this exercise as much as possible,” Eastman said. “Just anything that takes that relationship forward and allows us to operate together has got to be good, from my perspective. I think we can learn from you, and hopefully there are some things you can learn from us, equally.”

Palzer echoed Eastman’s sentiments on the multinational partnership.

“The 102 Logistic Brigade brings a lot of connections that we didn’t previously have,” Palzer explained. “Our international partners will have access to in-country capabilities, or in-country training missions. Having that access may grant us entrée to missions that are both useful to us and things that they may need.”

Maj. Rayn W. Kort, a plans officer with U.S. Army Africa and lead maneuver planner for the exercise, said that exercises like Lion Focus generate key leader development opportunities.

“These exercises are important in order for us as a staff to evaluate processes and integrate Reserve and Joint interagency partners, and to test our ability to create plans in a crisis action situation,” he said.

Kort said he was pleased with the level of participation from outside organizations in the exercise—especially from the Reserve component.

“Integrating the Reserve is critical from the sustainment perspective,” Kort explained. “We could end up responding to a real-world crisis with the same players [organizations] you see here now.”

Palzer agreed while taking time to eat with his troops at a dining facility in Vicenza.

“This is an excellent opportunity to get our people to work with other organizations,” Palzer said. “When we demonstrate our expertise as the sustainment command for USARAF in managing the sustainment requirements for large-scale, multinational, Joint forces in as complex a theater as Africa, we will ease decision making for combatant commanders and prove the invaluable nature of a multi-component Army,” Palzer concluded.