Casey E. Bain
FT. POLK, La., (12/15/08) – The National Guard’s only Stryker brigade is learning how military services can work together to improve air-ground integration training in preparation for their upcoming deployment.
The Pennsylvania National Guard’s 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) is conducting their mission rehearsal exercise here at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), where they are able to train with many of the joint assets that will be available to them once deployed in theater.
The Operations Group at JRTC leads the training supported by the Air Force’s Green Flag East and USJFCOM’s Joint Fires Integration and Interoperability Team (JFIIT).
“JRTC and Green Flag East have done a superb job of fusing service-level assets to create joint training opportunities here,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chris Olson, JFIIT lead at JRTC. “Our job is to help integrate those assets and bridge the gaps between the services so they can all work together as one well-synchronized fires team to achieve both service and joint training objectives.”
“The 56th SBCT has done very well integrating joint assets during their training rotation,” said Army Col. Eric Conrad, deputy commander operations group for JRTC. “The first time that an Army lieutenant needs to coordinate for close air support should not be in combat – they get that opportunity here so they will be well prepared once they’re in a high-stress combat environment.”
Part of this joint training is integrating assets like the Air Forces’ F-16 fighter aircraft, the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS), the MQ-1 Predator, an Air Support Operations Squadron (ASOS), and Special Operations Forces.
“The Army, Air Force, and other enablers like JFIIT are working closely here to improve the synchronization and coordination of the entire warfighting team,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Rhude Cherry III, commander of the 548th Combat Training Squadron. “This is a great place to train and that’s in large part because of the joint team that’s been assembled here to prepare our forces for what they will face once they’re downrange.”
JRTC employs joint assets to provide realistic and rigorous training that replicates the operational environment found in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The training here has been excellent,” said Air Force 2nd Lt. Eric Haupt, JSTARS liaison officer from the 116th Air Control Wing at Robbins Air Force Base, Ga. “Our ability to train here with other service assets in a near-real-world environment has been beneficial to all participants. There’s always room for improvement, but it provides us with the live training that we need before deploying.”
JRTC leaders said the ability to fully integrate both traditional and non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and other joint assets enhances the BCT’s training and replicates what they will experience once deployed.
“Coaching, teaching, and mentoring soldiers how to fully utilize all the capabilities at their disposal is an essential part of what we do,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Troy Clements, training mentor at JRTC for the Shadow unmanned aircraft system (UAS). “We’re helping teach rotational units how they can use assets like the Shadow UAS to enhance the ground commander’s situational awareness while reducing the need to put soldiers or live manned air platforms in harm’s way – they learn that working as a joint team is crucial to their success both here and when they are deployed.”
“Providing a joint training environment at JRTC has been an important part of our focus here,” added Conrad. “Many of the Air Force’s and Army’s training objectives are parallel and mutually supportive of one another. We need each other to accomplish our service specific and joint training objectives just as we need each other to be successful in combat.”
“Ensuring all warfighters understand the capabilities and limitations of each system operating in the battlespace is crucial,” said Cherry. “We reinforce the right process and best practices from units currently in theater to teach units how to achieve the ground commander’s desired effects on the battlefield.”
“We’re not perfect, but I think we’re more closely integrated as a joint team than ever before – the training being conducted here is evidence of that,” said Conrad. “We’ve got to keep getting better, but when we teach and reinforce fundamental service and joint warfighting skills, they become second nature to our soldiers, and translate into seamless execution in combat.”