NEW YORK - Members of the New York Army National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division hosted military peers from Europe and the Middle East as planners laid the foundation for the New York National Guard's deployment back to the Middle East later this year.
The planning conference, held in Manhattan from March 23-27, brought together members of the Egyptian Army Training Branch with Rainbow Division staffers to synchronize training plans for the Bright Star Exercise 2007, held in the western desert of Egypt from November 3-19 this year.
Bright Star is a U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) directed joint/combined exercise, including a computer-simulated command post exercise and a tactical air, airborne, amphibious and special operations forces field training exercise with Egyptian, coalition, and other U.S. forces in Egypt.
"All the forces deploying for Bright Star must come highly trained," said Lt. Gen. R. Steven Whitcomb, commander of the Third Army, U.S. Army Central and the Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC), the coalition joint task force headquarters for Bright Star. "This is not for the weak of heart."
Leading the Army Bright Star team for this year's exercise will be the New York Army National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division headquarters. The Army's famous "Rainbow Division" will lead co-command ground forces for Bright Star alongside the Egyptian Army's 3rd Infantry Division.
Rounding out the bulk of the combat power in the task force for Bright Star will be the Washington Army National Guard's 81st Armored Brigade Combat Team.
Key to the success of the training of the Guardsmen and up to fifteen different participating nations is the initial gunnery and small unit tactical training that brings Soldiers together before the large scale maneuvers begin.
"Assimilation and integration training is as important as any other phase of Bright Star," said Brig. Gen. Elsellawy Abdel-Azziz, Chief of Operations for the Egyptian Training Branch.
The assimilation training includes everything from individual or crew gunnery, demolition demonstrations and small unit tactical training with observer-controller-trainers supporting.
"Integration from all of our coalition partners combine for a joint training exercise that will guarantee the effectiveness of Bright Star," Azziz said.
Gathering all the representative nations' military planners for a land forces conference in New York was one of the first such opportunities for key leaders and staffs to review the concept of co-command between Egyptian and U.S. forces before the final plans are approved.
"We have 15 countries that have not worked or trained side by side much, so you can understand the challenges," said Whitcomb in his remarks to the various military leaders from Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, the Netherlands,
The planning conference, held at the historic Lexington Avenue Armory in Manhattan, home of the Army Guard's famous "Fighting 69th" Infantry, provided a backdrop of history and tradition for the Bright Star coalition partners.
"As I meet with so many of our coalition partners, I realize how relatively young our country's armed forces are," said Whitcomb. "I am pleased that this planning conference could be held here in an armory with so many visible reminders of our country's rich military history,"
Part of the weekend planning sessions included an overview of the role of the National Guard and the Citizen Soldier over the past 369 years, especially the missions and achievements of the New York National Guard since its response to ground zero in lower Manhattan.
The bulk of the staff planning centered on the evolving training tasks for Bright Star. Bright Star began more than 25 years ago as a military to military training opportunity for U.S. and Egyptian partners. Since that time, the global threat and military operating environment has changed considerably since those very early Bright Star Exercises.
"Times have changed and the current fight is different from when the U.S. prepared to fight the former Soviet Union on the plains of Germany," Whitcomb said.
With U.S. forces engaged in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and supporting similar efforts in the Philippines and Horn of Africa, many of the Bright Star participants look to integrate these threats into the field training in Egypt.
"As I look to Afghanistan and Iraq, I see armies operating against insurgencies," said Brig. Gen. Awni Mohammed Farhan Al-Adwan, Jordan's Director of Military Training.
"This exercise (Bright Star) has always been an army against another army. I think that we should include counterinsurgency operations in this and future exercises."
"Bright Star is evolving this year," said Whitcomb. "This is dramatically different from Bright Star exercises in the past."
Implementing change in a training exercise that takes nearly two years to fully plan and execute is no small matter, especially with fifteen different nations providing fifteen different points of view.
From counterinsurgency operations to improvised explosive device threats to civilians or media on the battlefield, not every aspect of the current operating environment can be thrust on every coalition soldier.
"We had a very dynamic four to five hours over the sand table," noted Col. Geoffrey Slack, the division operations officer after a review of the Bright Star field training exercise (FTX), an opportunity for much more free play between opposing units than in previous training exercises.
Getting all the key training planners together helped work through the different perspectives and different training objectives of the partner armies.
"We've come a long way in our planning," Azziz summarized as the leaders addressed the specific strengths of their organizations and outlined their training goals for Bright Star.
"We (U.S. forces) are not necessarily the experts in all matters," said Whitcomb in describing how Egyptian forces or other partners might take a lead role in different training scenarios. "There is expertise in every country. I want to make sure that we take advantage of the expertise in our participating countries."
Ultimately, the success of Bright Star will be marked by the key military relationships established throughout the participants in events that started in the training conference here in New York.
"The key part of our mission is the co-command and control alongside our Egyptian partners," explained Brig. Gen. Paul Genereux, commander of the 42nd Infantry Division to his staff.
"We've come a long way in meeting our objectives of this planning conference," said Genereux. "I think it is important that all of our coalition nations understand our staff and the role of the 42nd Infantry Division."
Citizen Soldiers preparing to return to the Middle East this year should not feel surprised at the Army's selection of the Rainbow Division for the exercise. The 42nd Division successfully redeployed after 20 months of federal service for Operation Iraqi Freedom, leading Task Force Liberty and the Multinational Division for North Central Iraq from February to November 2005.
"Bright Star really is an honor for the 42nd ID to be selected for this mission and represent U.S. forces for the Army forces command," Genereux said. "The reason we took on this mission is to build on what we've learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom."
"As we were planning for this Bright Star Exercise at the end of 2005, one of the things I asked for was a division headquarters with broad experience," Whitcomb said.
"We could not get a better unit to serve as the U.S. piece of Bright Star than the 42nd Infantry Division," said Whitcomb.