CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. – A warfighter exercise tests the capability of geographically dispersed, division-level elements and molds them into a team capable of deploying, winning and coming home safely.
With that goal in mind, First Army and the 35th Infantry Division joined forces during the Kansas Army National Guard unit's Warfighter 21-05 training exercise June 1-15. Other participating units included the 44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (New Jersey National Guard), the 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Hawaii National Guard), and the 65th Field Artillery Brigade (Utah National Guard).
"It builds cohesion with everybody," said Staff Sgt. Brian Foley, a 35th ID radio operator. "You don't see all of these guys every day, but on a deployment, they're going to be there, and this helps to build that team."
The exercise, a milestone in readiness and deployment cycles, featured large-scale combat operations in a simulated environment. Unit members, guided by First Army observer coach/trainers, exercised the Army warfighting functions of leadership, mission command, movement and maneuver, intelligence, fires, sustainment and protection.
The partnership between First Army and the 35th ID has evolved over three command post exercises the past year. That continued during Warfighter 21-05, according to Lt. Col. Douglas Willig, commander of the 1 Battalion, 305th Infantry Regiment, 177th Armored Brigade.
"The CPX1 was my first interaction with the division, pretty much getting to know them, seeing how their functions were working, seeing where they could improve," he said. "By the second and third, we had integrated into both their battle rhythm and where they wanted to go to accomplish their commander's training objectives."
This exercise represented a methodical approach to better prepare the units to deploy, fight, and win.
"They had very specific objectives from CPX1 to CPX 2 and 3, and their goal was to improve on all those to get here," Willig said. "Were they able to take those lessons learned, both for how they managed the fight and how they managed information, and then, can they move their units in time and space to get through the battle the way they want to?"
Willig and the rest of the First Army team mentored their 35th ID counterparts by asking open-ended questions, providing feedback, and examining ways to overcome obstacles.
"We provide them assistance with their timelines, their plans, and their operations, and when we see gaps in capabilities, we work to help them fill those gaps," said Lt. Col. Frank Toomey, operations officer for the 177th Armored Brigade. "Not so much giving them the answer, but coaching, mentoring and teaching towards what right looks like."
Soldiers of the 35th ID appreciated this approach.
"If they ever have an issue with something they've seen, they let us know, but they're not demanding," Foley said. "They know how busy it can get and they present their feedback in a professional, constructive manner."
The professional exchanges facilitated a successful partnership.
"They've been very receptive and we've seen daily progress, which is exactly what we look for," Toomey said. "I assisted them with their CPX3.
On Day One, coordination among different warfighting functions wasn't the best; it was insular. Everyone knew their role, but there wasn't the cross-talk. By the time we got to Day Three, you could see the warfighting functions talking amongst themselves and sharing information, and they had greatly improved their proficiency on the operation."
The communication flow enabled staff members to ensure the commanding general received the information needed to make timely decisions.
"I've seen a lot more cross-talk, a lot more reaching out, both us reaching out to them for information, and them to us for examples on standard operating procedures and things like that as they refine their products," Toomey said.
Soldiers of the 177th Armored Brigade ensured units trained according to Army Total Force Policy, which holds that standards are the same for all components.
"Being active duty and coming here and seeing these exercises, it really is on par with what you would see at a division-level event, so they are getting quality training," Toomey said.
Part of that training included valuable input from First Army observer coach/trainers, according to Maj. Nicky Inskeep, a 35th ID simulation operations officer.
"First Army has been great and super easy to work with," she said. "They've provided some good coaching and mentoring."
Such a relationship is the result of continual communication during and between training events.
"Our partnered brigade is 177th Armored and they were instrumental in getting us trained up to come here," Inskeep said. "They attended all of our command post exercises and provided a lot of coaching and mentoring and provided feedback through after-action reviews. It's been a very effective partnership."
That partnership helped the 35th ID execute a successful warfighter exercise.
"I like seeing how the staff works together and how the staff processes become streamlined and being able to exercise that in a simulated environment," Inskeep said. "This is an excellent opportunity for us to react and use the processes that we train on. Success would be us coming out of here with better processes and better communication, and having molded the team to communicate and synchronize."
These processes to synchronize information include seven-minute drills, working groups, and commander's update briefs. Those are areas where OC/Ts can assist the 35th ID, noted Capt. Chris Reed, who serves as an OC/T for the 157th Infantry Brigade, which also supported the exercise.
"We're here to help make sure the units are able to sync from brigade to division," Reed said. "We look at their systems and make sure that what the division is looking for and what the brigades are looking for are the same, and that brigades are talking to division, and that battalions are talking to brigades."
Reed noted that getting it right is more a journey than a destination.
"Success is identifying some issues to improve on, making the necessary adjustments, getting better at it, then taking that and continuing to train and build."
That's what happened, according to Maj. Chuck Levin, a future operations officer with the 35th ID G3/G5.
"This improves readiness because it exercises every warfighting function," he said. "The warfighter increases everybody's ability to do their job effectively in a simulated combat environment, and to be able to take information from several different inputs and process it into useful knowledge for decision-makers."
Levin added that the long-standing partnership between First Army and 35th ID Soldiers has been vital.
"First Army has a great relationship with the Kansas Army National Guard because we've mobilized so many units through Fort Hood and Fort Bliss," he said. "They coach and mentor and ask pertinent questions when they think there may be some hiccups in the way we communicate. When you have this many individuals hit with the speed of information that comes at them, there will be some disconnects, and they are there to see how we are doing with the process and give us some feedback and evaluation on how we could maybe do it better."
That teamwork led to a successful warfighter exercise that left 35th ID Soldiers more prepared to deploy, fight and win when the nation calls them.