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NEWS | May 23, 2014

Pennsylvania National Guard unit sharpens skills in NATO exercise

By Staff Sgt. Doug Roles 28th Infantry Division

MOURMELON, France - More than 300 soldiers from the 28th Infantry Division are training in northeastern France during a nearly three-week French-led NATO exercise. Leaders of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard unit say the joint training exercise will increase the division's ability to operate in a multi-national environment.

The soldiers arrived in the Champagne Military Camps Mourmelon and Mailly May 6-8. Since the official start of the computer-based exercise, May 12, division leaders have rehearsed and executed exercise battle plans with their foreign counterparts. The exercise gives all participants an opportunity to learn the procedures used by other militaries and ensure communications compatibility.

"The 28 ID staff is sharpening their warfighting skills by training side-by-side with our NATO partners in order to increase our readiness," said Brig. Gen. John Gronski, division commander.

The training in Rochambeau 2014 revolves around a computer-based scenario in which a fictitious country is attacked by a hostile neighboring nation, resulting in the deployment of a NATO stabilization force to oust the invader and bring stability to the region. Real maps (of the Horn of Africa for this exercise) are used in the planning.

The real world goal of the exercise is to prepare a French Division for command and control as a French/British Land Component Command deployed as a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force. Military leaders from Poland, Belgium, Italy and Canada and elements of U.S. Army Europe are participating in the exercise with the French Rapid Reaction Corps. USAREUR provided observer/coach/trainers (OCTs) as well as exercise support staff.

France and the United Kingdom developed a combined Joint Expeditionary Force, suitable for a wide range of scenarios, up to and including high intensity operations, following the Lancaster House treaties of 2010 for defense and security cooperation.

After getting to the French military bases, the 28 ID soldiers conducted in-processing and completed the set-up of a tactical operations center (TOC). Critical tasks included establishing a security perimeter and a communications network. The soldiers performing their annual training in France have had to quickly acclimate to the six-hour time difference while working with counterparts from multiple nations in a fast-paced environment.

An opening ceremony May 11 in Mourmelon gave division soldiers an opportunity to mark the "Iron Division's" return to France by assembling on a parade field along with the other participating units. The ceremony gave Rapid Reaction Corps-France Commander Lt. Gen. Eric Margail an opportunity to review the troops before the start of the simulation.

"We will try to build up the most realistic environment for each of you to fulfill all of your training objectives," he said. "Rapid Reaction Corps France Headquarters is fully deployed to conduct the exercise."

Battle staff from the participating units conducted combined arms rehearsal just prior to the opening ceremony. The exercise focuses as much on stability operations, humanitarian aid and communicating to the public as it does on carrying out force-on-force actions.

Belgian Kolonel Alain Maes, ICC(L) STRATCOM adviser, began the CAR by explaining that the purpose is to give the big picture to commanders and review the process of moving from kinetic operations (to oust the invading forces) to stability operations.

"As important as that is, we have to win the information battle. This information battle is critical," he said.

The exercise includes a simulated press pool with exercise control staff playing the part of journalists. Gronski and Lt. Col. Eric Zimmerman, division operations officer, participated in an exercise-driven press conference May 19 to hone their ability to inform reporters and the public.

Many of the Pa. Army National Guard soldiers had the opportunity to meet Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh May 15 when he toured the tactical operations centers at Mailly and Mourmelon. While receiving a briefing from Gronski on the 28 ID's deployments and capabilities, McHugh commended division leaders who aggressively sought to have a role in the multi-national exercise as an annual training event. He said involving the Guard in such trainings is needed to maintain the readiness of the operational reserve.

Planning for Rochambeau 2014 began nearly two years ago. Leaders of 28 ID and their counterparts from participating NATO units conducted exercise planning at Fort Indiantown Gap in the months leading up to this event.

This exercise adds to a long history between France and the 28 ID. The name of the exercise is symbolic of France's partnership with America. Lt. Gen. Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau commanded French land forces supporting Gen. George Washington's forces in the American Revolution. He was one of Washington's most trusted generals. In turn, the 28th Infantry Division came to the aid of France in World Wars I and II.

The 28ID is the nation's oldest continuously-serving division. The Pennsylvania Army National Guard is one of the nation's largest and most-deployed Guard forces. The 28th's soldiers will return to Pennsylvania over the Memorial Day travel period.