Friday, 16 July 2004

Realistic training environment part of 53rd Inf. Brigade's CPX

Florida Guardsman Online - Realistic training environment part of 53rd Inf. Brigade's CPX
Realistic training for a unit preparing to leave for actual operations.
It ‘adds a little emphasis’ to this year's annual training, says commander

By Jon Myatt

Department of Military Affairs

CAMP BLANDING JTC (May 20) -- Outwardly, Camp Blanding looks like most U. S. Army installations in the United States. But after the 10-minute drive from the main cantonment area downrange to the 53rd Infantry Brigade's tactical operations center, you would have trouble identifying the location of this "battlefield."

It is a serene setting and, except for the sound of power generators humming in the background, would be hard to notice if passing by. Tucked into a small grove of trees off a dirt road, away from the hustle and bustle of the main post, is the brigade's tactical operations center, or "TOC." Camouflaged and secured behind a network of trenches and bull-dozed embankments, encircled by concertina wire and guarded by soldiers, the "TOC" is the hub of activity around which the whole military operation functions. It is almost identical to similar headquarters in Afghanistan and Iraq, or for that matter, anywhere the US Army operates in the world.

It is obvious to the observer that something is happening here. Soldiers travelling to and away from the complex have a sense of purpose. There is seriousness and a sense of urgency in their actions. To the uninitiated, it would be difficult to tell that this was only a training exercise.

But today, it is an exercise.

Realism, combined with a healthy dose of combat experience and the impending deployment of the brigade combat team to Afghanistan next year, is adding "a little more emphasis" and urgency to this year's annual training, according to Col. John Perryman, the brigade's commander.

Perryman, a second generation Florida Guardsman, exudes confidence in his soldiers and the upcoming mission to southwest Asia. While he attributes some of his feelings to the transformation of the Army Guard he has seen in his 27 years career as a soldier and leader, the primary reason he says his soldiers are ready is caused by current events.

"The training guidance we received from the Adjutant General and other (senior commands) has validated the things we've been doing in the past year and it adds realism to the exercise, of course," he says. But what "really adds realism and a little more emphasis to the soldier is because, by the calendar, what we're doing out here with blanks and lasers, in 15 months, we'll be going down range and doing with real bullets."

The danger of improvised explosive devices, vulnerability during convoys, and other threats to his soldiers in an operation of this magnitude is not lost on them, he says.

"Protecting the force is always at the top of the list of priorities, we can't accomplish any mission without protecting the personnel and resources to do it with, so our ability to sustain our combat operations is critical," Perryman said. "It’s priority one, and everything we do emanates from there."

And the brigade is fortunate in that regard, he says, having so many combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Roughly 1,500 of them, members of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions of the 124th Infantry, are members of his brigade, though he has brought only about 100 of them to the field for this training exercise. They are an example of the professionalism of the force, he explained, since they are all volunteers who wanted to bring their personal experience to the exercise and to help those leaders and soldiers for whom next year's operation in Afghanistan will be their first overseas deployment.

This week the brigade had a two-fold purpose, he said. "For the staffs, we’ve focused the CPX (command post exercise) on the synchronization of all the battlefield information systems -- the flow of information and analysis of information. For the units in the field, their focus has been on force protection measures -- convoy operations, local security, and force protection -- those tasks that they'll have to be proficient in when they deploy to Afghanistan next year."

With extensive news media coverage of combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past two years, many of the brigade's soldiers expected to be called up to participate, he said.

"For some time we've sort of anticipated that we might get a mission to Afghanistan," Perryman said. "All of our training focus and much of the work our staff is doing is geared toward those tasks and our priorities that are based on the lessons learned from theater operations and the experience of our three battalions that just returned.

"I've got no doubt at all that the soldiers of this brigade can accomplish the mission," he said. "They're trained, they're motivated – it’s really been encouraging to me as I've gone around and talked to the troops -- they are overwhelmingly looking forward to getting engaged with it.

"While there's obviously some apprehension, as one would expect, I think the soldiers are pretty charged up about it," he said.

From the looks of things in this operations center on Camp Blanding, Col. Perryman is right on the mark. It is a Saturday night and his brigade is training.

As the springtime sun slowly sinks into the horizon, 1,500 soldiers are training for their mission in the Global War on Terror. For the rest of us…we can hug our children, we can plan for the future, we can sleep well tonight.

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