Read military reporter Caitlin Kenney’s dispatches from the Joint Readiness Training Center on Fort Polk, Louisiana, at coastalcourier.com/section/299.
After constant operations against a near-peer force for 18 straight days and nights in “the box” at the Joint Readiness Training Center on Fort Polk, Louisiana, you would think the most-hectic part of the training rotation was over.
However, some of the busiest time is immediately after the force-on-force exercise ends and the after-action reviews begin. Leaders throughout the brigade must sit through hours of briefings, listening to what the JRTC operation group’s observer controller trainers have to say about what they did well and areas that need improvement.
“[2nd Brigade] embraced the opportunity by capitalizing on the multiple scenarios provided by JRTC through the replication of the full spectrum of combat operations in a Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational environment,” Lt. Col. Stephen Shrader, Brigade Mission Command senior observer-controller/trainer at JRTC, said in an email. “All training objectives were met and the brigade combat team departed JRTC with a higher level of knowledge and skill than when they arrived,” he said.
“I think we did very well,” Col. Thomas Gukeisen, 2nd Brigade Combat Team’s commander, said about the team’s JRTC rotation. “I think we trained very hard for it, and we validated the training that we did back here at Fort Stewart.”
Shrader said 2nd Brigade smoothly switched between different missions, including joint forcible entry, offense, defense and stability-related tasks.
The brigade remained flexible, according to Gukeisen, adapting to the changing conditions and preparing for the next mission.
“The communication systems, I think, was something we did very well. We were very aggressive. I think we showed the enemy we were ready,” he said.
As for things to work on going forward, Shrader said JRTC put a lot of stress on the brigade’s planning and resourcing operations, day-to-day events that supported operations, and the brigade’s ability to synchronize operations.
“The lessons learned from exercising those processes in this environment will carry over and inform the way ahead for the Brigade Combat Team as it organizes to support its Africa Command mission,” Shrader said.
Gukeisen added that the stress, the length and the fast pace of the rotation also made the soldiers realize they have to work on their synchronization when it came to operations.
Every day, the brigade had to deal with past, present and future operations simultaneously.
“So every day, the brigade was in three different time horizons and time zones trying to orchestrate all that with the common purpose, was something that we didn’t appreciate before we went there,” Gukeisen said.
Before the start of 2nd Brigade’s rotation, Gukeisen said he had been studying lessons learned from prior rotational units and implementing them in their own training.
“It was apparent that the Brigade Combat Team commander had ‘done his homework’ prior to coming to JRTC,” Shrader said. “JRTC provides many opportunities prior to the execution of a rotation to share knowledge and trends on previous rotations with incoming BCTs.”
He went on to say that “JRTC encourages brigade combat teams to reach out and learn before, during, and after their rotation.”
For Gukeisen, JRTC wasn’t easy but, after it was over, he said it was fun.
“In the end, we learned a lot. We have the stuff to work on that we took forward with us,” he said. “And it was great working for the JRTC Operations Group. Very professional organization willing to help us, willing to share what they’ve seen and to make us better. And that’s what the purpose of it is.”
With JRTC over, 2nd Brigade now transitions to its new mission: being a regionally aligned force with Africa Command, or AFRICOM, for the next year.
It will send soldiers to about 50 African countries for a variety of training and security missions, including medical, logistics, gender mainstreaming and theater security cooperation programs.
“It’s based on a requirement and a need for what the partnership opportunity is,” Gukeisen said.
Deployments for soldiers can last from a week to six months, depending on what they are being sent to do.
Second Brigade soldiers took classes last week in areas such as culture, history, governance and U.S. policy to prepare for their new mission. And they will take additional training for the specific countries and missions they have been assigned over the next year.
This is the fourth time a brigade has regionally aligned with AFRICOM. Gukeisen said the rotational mission continues to evolve every year.
“So I think every year, it evolves depending on some of the countries see what’s going on. And so I think it’s going to continue to grow,” he said.
He said this mission is important for Americans to be aware of because it prevents future conflicts.
“And it’s building their capacity. It’s building the partners, to gain trust with them, respect from them. And America has an enduring interest over there,” Gukeisen said.