FORT POLK, La. - The Army is going back to its "Decisive Action Training Environment Rotations" at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk. The Vermont Army National Guard's 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain), is the first and only National Guard unit to take part in a rotation at JRTC this year.
With 21 states contributing Army Guard units and assets to the exercise, this is the first rotation of its kind for the National Guard since 2003, when rotations at the JRTC became mission-oriented to units preparing to deploy.
A decisive-action training rotation is meant to be a "catch-all," preparing units for any type of mission.
"The Decisive Action Training Environment presents Army forces and our joint partners with a training model that helps leaders identify requirements and shape unit training to build formations capable of fighting and prevailing under a wide range of conditions," said Army Lt. Col. William Adler, chief of plans at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. "This capacity to stimulate and train Soldiers and units is essential to generating and maintaining a superior ground combat capability."
The 86th IBCT (MTN) commander welcomed the diverse training and the tests his unit was able to pass.
"The Decisive Action Training Rotation [is] the most challenging and realistic environment where leaders and their Soldiers were tested and had to prove themselves in every action they undertook," said Army Col. John Boyd, commander of the 86th IBCT (MTN). "The sense of accomplishment resulting from operating in austere conditions, long hours, extreme heat and humidity is palpable across the Mountain Brigade."
In addition to the National Guard presence, four Army Reserve units, five active component units, special operations teams, and Air Force assets are bringing their skill sets and knowledge to bolster the complexity and cohesion of the exercise.
The training at the JRTC allows the 86th IBCT (MTN) to maintain a level of readiness in-line with the Army's Force Generation model, or ARFORGEN. A five year cycle designed for all brigade combat teams, Army leaders say the ARFORGEN model better suits the transitioning needs of the National Guard and military as a whole, ensures proper training timetables, and allows families and employers of Guard members to better plan for their workers' absences.
"This is a phenomenal opportunity for the Guard to come here," said Army Gen. Frank J. Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau. Grass came to Fort Polk June 20 to witness the rotation firsthand. "What we tried to do is look at a rotation time, making sure that we've taken care of families, we're taking care of employers, we can get the predictability, and so we built a schedule based on a five-year cycle."
Grass said the 86th has been training together in a way that exceeds the expectations of the National Guard Bureau, and the training they receive at the JRTC will stay with them throughout their careers.
"They're going to take back lessons from this brigade combat operation here at JRTC that will pay them benefits for years to come," he said.
Grass met one-on-one with Soldiers and Airmen throughout the exercise to get a sense of how the individual is faring. Overall, he said the adaptability of the Soldiers allowed them to concentrate on the training and properly retain the information they need.
"Most of the Soldiers and Airmen I've met out here are from the northeastern part of the United States. It's a little bit warmer here, so they've had to adjust to the heat, and they've had to acclimate, and they've done that well," Grass said.
"Every one of them out here has been extremely engaged and extremely receptive to their [trainer/mentor] comments, and they're almost to a point where, as soon as something pops up that they need to improve upon, they're ready to implement it immediately into the next operation, and that's what we want to see," he added.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, adjutant general, Vermont National Guard, also came to Louisiana to observe his troops. Like Grass, Cray said he is impressed with the 86th IBCT.
Cray said the successes of the 86th IBCT's rotation further validate the readiness of Army National Guard members when compared to their active component brethren.
"The Army National Guard has been an integral player in our nation's defense," Cray said. "They have deployed alongside our active component, fought in the same battles, [and] to continue to maintain that readiness within the National Guard is extremely important."
In a recent interview with Army Times, Army Col. Dan Williams, a senior planner for Forces Command explained that concrete partnerships between components are now in place.
"If you are an active component [brigade combat team], you now have a partnered National Guard [brigade combat team]," Williams said. "It makes no sense for two components to be training like-events on different sides of the same post. We train together when we can."
This partnership has aligned the 86th IBCT (MTN) with 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, located at Fort Drum, New York.
Cray said despite no Vermont Army National Guard units scheduled for deployment, the training at the JRTC helps preserve the readiness of his units.
"JRTC is [the] culmination of putting all those assets together to give our Soldiers the best training they can," Cray said. "There isn't a deployment scheduled for the 86th right now, but who knows what's going to happen to this world tomorrow? So, we need to be ready. It's vitally important that the Reserve component, the Army Reserve, the National Guard and the active components stay as ready as possible."