Final Afghanistan-bound Stryker Brigade Trains for Deployment
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 13, 2013 Members of the last Stryker brigade combat team scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan are preparing for a distinctly different mission there, while also instituting new measures to promote resilience for soldiers and their families during the deployment.
Leaders from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment meet with replicated Afghan officials during a mission rehearsal exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, March 11, 2013. The training focuses on enabling Afghan national security forces to assume responsibilities for security operations. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ruth Harvie
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The 2nd Cavalry Regiment “Dragoons” are midway through a mission rehearsal exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels, Germany.
The training, to help ramp up the unit for its nine-month deployment to Afghanistan this summer, represents a major shift from the combat-focused operations Army Col. Douglas Sims, the regimental commander, and many of his soldiers have undergone before previous rotations.
“As the security forces assistance brigade, what we are trying to do is very different than what we have done in the past,” Sims told American Forces Press Service during a phone interview from Hohenfels.
“In the past, we talked a lot about how we would deal specifically with the enemy -- how we will clear the enemy from a certain location or how we will work to help a village or help governance,” he said. “But in this case, in every respect, we are talking about how we will work to enable the Afghan security forces do all those things.”
Sims, who deployed to Afghanistan as one of the regiment’s squadron commanders in 2010, admitted this shift takes him and many of his battle-tested soldiers out of their “comfort zone.”
He likened his soldiers as a soccer team now serving as coaches to new players. “We spent all this time playing by ourselves on the field, and then after awhile, we were playing for a team that was half Afghan and half coalition,” he said. “Now that team is all Afghan, and we have moved to the sidelines.
“So we are still there to help with the game plan -- still talking to them about how they can be better players, still offering support and assistance in terms of strategy,” Sims continued. “But when the game starts, we are on that sideline, … and the goal has to be taken by the Afghans.”
The JMRC cadre made big changes in the exercise design based on the transition on the ground in Afghanistan to security force assistance and Afghan-led operations, Army Maj. William Griffin, the training center public affairs officer, explained.
They’ve made the training as challenging and realistic as possible, he said, with partners from 12 nations replicating Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police units. Working across cultures and language barriers as they will in Afghanistan, the cavalry soldiers deal with scenarios in which they support the role-playing Afghan forces that plan, resource and execute independent operations, Griffin said.
The actual exercise play kicked off last week, with the situational training exercise leading up to the final “force-on-force” phase of the training expected to begin late this week.
Sims said he was impressed by how quickly the cadre adapted the training to ensure it was in synch with the mission the regiment will conduct on the ground -- one he acknowledged has evolved significantly since he assumed command in mid-January.
“It was phenomenal how quickly they turned this around to make this a security force assistance brigade rotation,” he said. “There is simply not a training center as flexible and relevant as this one.”
The training will be invaluable to his soldiers as they conduct a historic mission in Afghanistan, Sims said, calling it another milestone to add to the legacy of the Army’s longest continuously serving active cavalry regiment.
“My belief is that we are going to hand off a continually improving Afghan security force,” he said. “When we leave, those elements will be very, very capable of operating independently, providing that strength and that backbone that the government of Afghanistan will need. Whichever direction the country chooses to go, I believe we are going to hand off a force that is ready to work for them.”
Sims credited his soldiers -- about one-quarter of whom will deploy to Afghanistan for the first time -- with rising to every task they have been given to ensure this happens.
“We have some really phenomenal people. I can’t overstate that,” Sims said. “I’m amazed each time we do this at how good these guys are, and how they take complex problems and make them seem very simple. And this is probably the most complex of the problems I’ve seen.”
After returning to its home station in Vilseck, Germany, the 2nd ACR will build on lessons learned through the JMRC training as round-out forces arrive to fill out its ranks before the deployment.
As part of the unit’s pre-deployment preparation, Sims has instituted a rigorous program to boost the resilience of his soldiers and their families.
“Just as we are going about the deployment in a different way, we are also going about the preparation of our soldiers a little differently in regard to resiliency and behavioral health,” he said.
The Dragoon Total Fitness Program incorporates the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness and Family program, with an emphasis on instilling resilience within the ranks and helping leaders understand resilience, positive psychology and post-traumatic stress.
Sims eliminated a day of physical training every 10 days, designating it a “resiliency day” to focus on these issues. He also lined up sessions in which his regimental leaders, troop commanders and first sergeants meet individually with behavioral health experts to talk through deployment matters.
“We are trying to incorporate all aspects of fitness: not concentrating just on mental or physical fitness, but working through the emotional and family [aspects],” Sims said. “That way, when we deploy, and when our families are left here, we are all able to fall back on this baseline of resiliency.”
Sims admitted the initiatives weren’t universally embraced, but he said his previous positions within the 2nd ACR helped pave the way to acceptance. “I told them, ‘Trust me. Just give me the benefit of the doubt,’” he said.
“My personal opinion is that they will come back and tell me there is some value to this,” Sims said. “My belief is that strong families and strong soldiers will make our deployment better and the full surrounding organization better.”