Camp Shelby, MISS. – More than 500 National Guard Soldiers recently completed the last step of their mobilization training in preparation for their upcoming Security Forces Assistance Advisor Team mission in Afghanistan. The training wrapped up a monumental effort by both the National Guard Soldiers and the unit that trained them.
The 47 SFA AT teams, comprised of Soldiers from Hawaii’s 29th Infantry Brigade Combat team and Texas’ 56th IBCT, began their mobilization training at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, Miss., in August. The intense culminating training exercise at the National Training Center in October tested each team’s individual and team advisor, and survivability skills. The 158th Infantry Brigade, part of First Army Division East, designed the training to replicate the conditions and missions the SFA AT members will face in Afghanistan.
“This 14-day training compressed a lot of training into that time,” said First Army Division East Deputy Commanding General, Brigadier General Steven D. Huber. “It is meant to capture as much of the deployment experience as possible.”
“This has truly been a collective effort,” said 158th Infantry Brigade Commander, Col. Christopher S. Forbes. “From First Army to Division East down to the 158th being the lead Brigade, this SFA AT training mission could not have been done without the help from teams coming together to replicate a brigade headquarters and to continue to mentor while embedded with these teams.”
The 158th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East, mobilizes, trains, and validates Reserve component Soldiers to meet all deployment requirements for worldwide missions. The 158th normally trains brigade-size elements for traditional security forces missions. However, for this SFA AT deployment, the brigade simultaneously trained 47 teams, each with individual missions. To replicate conditions and command structure in Afghanistan, First Army reached out to Forces Command for additional support.
The NTC tested each team’s responsiveness, flexibility, agility and versatility through more than 20 training events. The training encompassed three stages: Reception, Staging, Onward movement and Integration; Live Fire Exercises, and; Force-on-Force.
“During RSOI, the units receive, in-process and prepare for training,” said Capt. Jason Shuff, 2nd of 351st Regiment Battalion executive officer at Camp Shelby. “Staging personnel and establishing a command is a large part of completing the mission. The LFX allows the units to train on systems and standard operating procedures, assess unit competency in battle drills and mission essential task lists. During FOF, the SFA AT teams train in an OEF-replicated environment in order to prepare for their forward mission. At the conclusion of the training, the SFA AT teams go through regeneration so they recover from the operations, reset from training and complete final preparations for deployment.”
“Our Soldiers found the training [at the] NTC invaluable,” said Staff Sgt. Nick Terry, an Infantryman with the 56th IBCT from Lufkin, Texas. “[It] was truly a culmination of our training at Camp Shelby.”
“[The NTC] training is completely different … because of the SFA AT mission, “ said Terry.
The Security Force Assistance Team model is a game-changing approach to fielding an effective fighting force, according to commanders on the ground, said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in a recent statement.
“We must build the capabilities of Afghan Army and police, and ensure they have the embedded trainers and mentors needed to assist them as they take security lead,” Panetta said.
Throughout the scenario-driven training, the Guardsman from Texas and Hawaii used their advisor specific skills during engagements with community members. They also reacted to opposing forces attacks.
“The fact that they have the roll players [at the NTC] really helped,” said Terry. “Having the enabler [at the NTC] to play your Battle Space Owner [was] good.”
“The more than 500 Soldiers returned to Shelby with a great ability to adapt, move, and communicate,” said Forbes. “These SFA AT teams are now more prepared to succeed in the mission as they work the mission in Afghanistan.”
“It’s a huge success story that shows the real flexibility and capability of First Army and its NCO’s and officers,” Forbes continued. “It’s a first rate team, and in my opinion the training forces choice.”
Once in theater, SFA AT’s provide mentorship and training, enabling Afghan National Security Forces to conduct more effective intelligence and tactical operations and to prevent terrorism and insurgency.