Back in the Box: training for the future

U.S. Army Capt. Craig Stump assigned to Scorpion Team, Operations Group, National Training Center (NTC), Fort Irwin Calif., Conducts an after action review following a situational training exercise during training rotation 20-08.11 at the National Training Center (NTC), Fort Irwin, Calif., June 10, 2020. Internal training rotations like these at the NTC ensure that Fort Irwin Soldiers are ready and prepared for current and future operations. (Photo by U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Charles A. Porter, Operations Group, National Training Center)

FORT IRWIN, Calif. — Observer Coach Trainers with Operations Group conducted a unique force-on-force training rotation with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment from June 7-15 at National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. Although this was a different kind of rotational training, it was the first since March 2020.

After a temporary pause in high-fidelity readiness training earlier this spring to prevent a potential spread of the COVID-19 virus at NTC, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, along with Operations Group engaged in a high-level training exercise, rehearsed safeguards and maintained force readiness to prepare for a large-scale Brigade Combat Team rotation scheduled for next month.

“This was really good for us, it’s been a few months since we’ve been out there doing this and you get a little rusty when you’re not using those systems,” Capt. Michael Serafini, an Armor Company Observer Controller with Ops Group’s Scorpion Team said. “Scorpion did our best to exercise our systems during this COVID time, however it’s just not the same as being out there in the field with a Rotational Training Unit or with some partners like 11th ACR.”

While at NTC, rotational training unit soldiers face an array of challenges, from the intense heat and high winds, to the sheer size of the training area and terrain they will encounter for the first time; however, the biggest threat they will face during their training is the opposing forces that are played by Blackhorse Soldiers.

According to Command Sgt. Maj. Quentin Fenderson, this rotation created unique challenges for Blackhorse, who were split into two opposing forces and faced off against each other.

“They’ve done Blackhorse versus Blackhorse squadrons against each other, but they’ve never done it with a constructive background,” Fenderson said. “This is the first time that NTC has done that. It was just a humongous learning curve for a lot of people.”

While all of this was taking place, the OCT’s of Ops Group worked side by side with the soldiers, non-commissioned officers and officers of Blackhorse who coached them to become a better and even harder oppositional force for future rotations.

Observer Controllers started working with Blackhorse by conducting mechanized infantry company situational training exercises, then moved on to mechanized infantry battalion situational training exercises (STX). Once the situational training exercises were completed, OCT’s met with their Blackhorse counterparts to discuss what specific events took place during the training in an after-action review (AAR). Following the STX lanes the Blackhorse forces separated and began their large-scale force-on-force exercise.

“What was really good about the STX lanes is it really enables Scorpion Team to get a lot of repetitions, which we don’t get to do much at NTC at the lower levels especially,” Serafini said. “We have our battle periods and we may get two to three missions per battle period, but we were getting two to three missions per day during some of these STX and just the conduct of their mission really helps master these skills.”

Not only was this rotation unique due to the fact that there was no rotational training unit, but it’s the first time that NTC combined a live-in-the-field training event as well as constructive training events at a division level. There were multiple lessons learned during this rotation at all different levels, according to Fenderson.

“I think we learned a lot in terms of being able to exercise or create stress for the division level staff,” Fenderson said. “Typically out here we train Brigades with the underlying responsibilities of training squads, platoons and companies, but with the division staff out here acting as a corps, you have to get into the role of what corps do in terms of stressing or putting requirements down to the division level.”

Fenderson went on to explain that rotations such as these that encompass both live in the field training and constructive training is where Ops Group and NTC are moving toward, which will create a steep learning curve for most people.

“To see where this thing started in terms of concept back in January when we found out we were going to do it to where it is now, we’ve grown a lot,” Fenderson said. “I think everybody was fighting above their weight class because you have some company commanders who were acting as brigade commanders inside of the constructive. I think it was a learning experience for everybody as well as some of the new Observer Controllers.”

Rotations like these assist in planning for future training exercises and operations on a much larger scale. It allows the senior leaders of Ops Group and NTC to see the good and the bad that goes along with trying to implement new training objectives here at NTC.