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June 08, 2012

News

32nd Brigade completes Warfighter exercise

Story & photo by 1st Sgt. Vaughn R. Larson, Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs

The Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team last saw significant infantry combat nearly 70 years ago. To maintain those fearsome battlefield skills that earned the Red Arrow its reputation requires practice — but it’s difficult to come by large-as-life training scenarios. Homeland security missions as well as deployments conducting missions such as base security, convoy escort and detainee operations also have taken their share of training opportunities that might otherwise go to large-scale infantry operations.
PHOTO: 32nd IBCT leadership conducts a combined arms rehearsal during the Warfighter exercise. Photo by 1st Sgt. Vaughn R. Larson
Brigade and battalion leadership in the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team walk through a combined arms rehearsal with the aid of a large-scale sand table situation map during its Warfighter exercise.

The 32nd Brigade’s Warfighter exercise, conducted May 7-16 at Fort McCoy, provided a virtual battlefield with realistic demands designed to hone battle management skills and point the Red Arrow in the right direction.

“This is something we used to do quite a bit back before 2001,” said Lt. Col. Michael George, 32nd Brigade executive officer. “By and large, the young enlisted and junior officers have not been on staff as long as some of us older guys, so they have never been through one of these exercises. Then when you add in the complexity of all of our digital systems, that adds another component or dimension. When you look at what we’ve accomplished these past 10 days, I think it’s extraordinary.”
 
The Mission Command Training Program, which is based at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., worked with the 32nd IBCT during the exercise, conducting research on interpersonal communication.

The MCTP has put units ranging from brigades up through corps through the virtual wringer since the 1980s to teach commanders and their staffs how to manage offensive and defensive operations.

“We came here to meet some training objectives,” said Col. Thomas Christensen, commander of Operations Group Bravo which ran the exercise, “and I think we did that. We’ve seen some great improvement throughout the exercise.”

One of the first casualties in the exercise was the flow of information.

As the Warfighter continued, staff members and subordinate units improved how they communicated vital information to paint the most accurate picture possible of the battlefield.

“What gives us agility? Our ability to know our situation,” Christensen said. “Commanders, we have agility because we understand what is happening and we can adjust off the plan … there’s always something else we need to be looking at and tracking.”

“That’s really hard work (when) the guys you get data from are fully engaged,” said Col. Martin Seifer, 32nd IBCT commander.

Maj. Gen. David Elicerio, commander of the Minnesota Army National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division, served as the commander of the exercise’s notional 52nd Infantry Division during the latter days of the exercise. He lauded the 32nd Brigade as a learning organization.

“There was nobody in this organization who said, ‘We’re as good as we can get,’” Elicerio observed. “The trick is, how do we get to where we need to be? Look and see what you can inculcate into your culture — that’s when you’re winning on this thing.”

Randy Anderson, a retired brigadier general who served as a senior mentor for the exercise, agreed. “If anybody feels bad about their performance, don’t — I think you learned a lot,” Anderson said. “You will never learn a lesson until you burn your fingers … We weren’t expecting perfection — we were expecting improvement.”

Anderson said that many of the skills called for in Warfighter exercises have atrophied over the past 10 years. 32nd Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde acknowledged that the learning curve was steep.

“I think you guys came to the fight and you had a hard task,” Conde said. “I think we learned a lot. We grew a lot in the last four days.”

Conde challenged the brigade to consider how to achieve a “return on investment” from the exercise within the constraints of a limited training calendar.

George said the Warfighter succeeded in revealing what the 32nd is good at and where it can improve.

“The exercise really gave us a look at how we go from here into the future — how we set up and operate these digital systems, how we organize as a brigade headquarters, how we conduct planning,” George said. “The exercise was useful in showing us the big picture.”

Seifer noted that the operation order developed for the exercise contained specific training objectives, but winning the battle was not one of them. “As I look through there, we did every one of (the training objectives) well, some better than others, and some we did really well,” Seifer said. “We took huge steps in the last 10 days.”

Christensen applauded the Red Arrow.

“It was great to work with you guys here,” he said. “This is a great organization — the 32nd is motivated, ready to learn, ready to get better.”

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