FORT DEVENS, Mass. - Soldiers stand in line at a mock post office waiting to mail packages and letters home to their families, friends and loved ones. The slow steady hum of conversation fills the room as Soldiers complete their address forms and talk about day-to-day activities.
With a few Subject Matter Experts walking around the room checking to see if the forms are being filled out correctly, one SME walks in the mailroom unnoticed and tosses a grungy black bag on the floor and shouts, "BOMB, BOMB!" Within seconds, Soldiers drop everything and run out of the exits to safety.
This bomb scenario is just one example of the training these Human Resource Specialists received while participating in the U.S. Army Forces Command's bi-annual, multi-echelon Training Exercise Silver Scimitar at Fort Devens, Mass., Nov. 8-21, 2013.
Col. Elvia Denise Gaines-Edmond, the Human Resources Training Assessment Branch Chief and Silver Scimitar Exercise director, is always willing to take a minute to talk about her job and the importance of training Soldiers in the HR community.
"Silver Scimitar is designed to train Human Resources units scheduled for deployment on core competencies for operations within a deployed area," Gaines said.
Gaines said the exercise trains HR Soldiers in their war-fighting functions to provide and manage HR operations, personnel accountability, casualty liaison services, and postal operations and liaison teams. She added this is something they don't normally do in garrison and these are perishable skills that need to be maintained within the units.
When people think about Soldiers training for war, they most likely envision them out in the field dressed in "full battle rattle" carrying guns at the low ready like in the movies. In reality, some Soldiers prepare for deployment by sharpening their war-fighting skills in a mock office building sitting in front of a computer filling out forms or in a mock post office preparing to send and receive mail.
The difference between these two scenarios might lead some to think the jobs of Human Resource Specialists are not as important as those of the Soldiers in battle, but without them the mission would fail.
The "Gateway" is a human resource center that is invaluable in wartime, said Capt. Joshua Micheal Keller, 138th Theater Gateway, Indiana National Guard. The main function of the Gateway is to process all inbound and outbound personnel from all branches of the U.S. Armed forces and their allies, including contractors and civilians.
"What we did here at Silver Scimitar is set up an exact replica of the theater gateway located in Afghanistan," explained Keller. "Personnel will in-process and out-process through our gateway and we have formed an operations team that will oversee this process during the exercise."
Spc. Robert Martin, assigned to 1st Theater Sustainment Command, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., thinks this is great training for HR personnel. He says he has learned more about the systems and programs that they use and the functions of the Human Resources Operation Center because of this exercise.
Spc. Jennifer Williams, assigned to the 105th Personnel Company, a National Guard unit based in Nashville, Tenn., is training in the Casualty Assistance Center and as part of the Casualty Liaison Team. Williams said she didn't really understand how important her job was until she attended this training. It made her realize she is part of making things go smoothly for Soldiers and their families if they get sick, wounded, or worse. A slight miss-wording in her report can affect a family greatly.
This Silver Scimitar is a little different than past exercises because the Army is evaluating this program to find ways to bring it home to individual duty stations, as well as combine it with the Combat Training Centers.
"As the Army gets smaller and resources change, we have to look at it and ask, 'Is this the only way to train or are there better ways to train? Are there more cost-effective ways to train?' That's what we are going to have to look forward to over the next few years," said Brig. Gen. David K. MacEwen, executive director of the Military Postal Service Agency.
"This exercise has had a long run of being a wonderful exercise that's trained our Soldiers in a lot of great ways," he said.