USA — Trainers Provide Lessons-Learned to Deploying Troops

FORT POLK, La., May 26, 2010 — Army Staff Sgt. Chris Klein­hans has just about seen it all dur­ing his past two-and-a-half years as a trainer/mentor at the Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter here.

Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La
Army Staff Sgt. Chris Ream, a trainer/mentor at the Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter at Fort Polk, La., right, coach­es Sgt. Ryan McGrath from the 101st Air­borne Division’s 4th Brigade Com­bat Team dur­ing a road­side secu­ri­ty mis­sion in prepa­ra­tion for the brigade’s deploy­ment to Afghanistan.
DoD pho­to by Don­na Miles
Click to enlarge

He has facil­i­tat­ed about 20 rota­tion­al train­ing units as they per­formed their last crit­i­cal mis­sion rehearsal exer­cis­es before deploy­ing to Iraq or Afghanistan. Near­ly all of the most-recent rota­tions, includ­ing the 101st Air­borne Division’s 4th Brigade Com­bat Team that’s wrap­ping up its train­ing here, are head­ed for Afghanistan. 

This cur­rent rota­tion, Klein­hans’ last at JRTC before report­ing to his next duty sta­tion, holds spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance. He’s on orders for the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion, and rec­og­nizes that he could well be serv­ing in com­bat with the troops he’s coach­ing here. 

“It’s not a mat­ter of mak­ing you work hard­er at this job, but it does make it a lot more per­son­al,” he said. 

Klein­hans is among a high­ly expe­ri­enced cadre com­mit­ted to ensur­ing units get the most out of their JRTC experience. 

“The bot­tom line is, we are help­ing them achieve the readi­ness lev­el they want before they go to com­bat,” said Army Lt. Col. Val Keav­e­ny, the JRTC brigade com­man­der and senior trainer/mentor

“Each of us here has served in their shoes, and each of us know, or at least hope, we will serve in their shoes again,” Keav­e­ny said. “So as trainer/mentors, we are com­mit­ted to help­ing them max­i­mize the very short amount of time they get here.” 

JRTC aban­doned the term “observ­er-con­trollers” about two years ago, adopt­ing a title Keav­e­ny said far more accu­rate­ly depicts their rela­tion­ship with the rota­tion train­ing units. “To observe is pas­sive,” he said. “And we don’t con­trol any­thing. It is their unit. What we do is focus on train­ing them and focus on mentoring.” 

Trainer/mentors observe each unit’s per­for­mance, coach­ing and teach­ing doc­trine as they man­age mock engage­ments, mon­i­tor safe­ty, and con­duct after-action reviews. All have deploy­ment expe­ri­ence under their belts and keep well-versed in cur­rent oper­a­tional doc­trine, tac­tics, tech­niques and procedures. 

“We have all been there, and we have expe­ri­enced some of the pain,” said Keav­e­ny. “And now, in a posi­tion like mine, after see­ing it here for two years straight, I can help them avoid some of the pain.” 

But as JRTC’s trainer/mentors will attest, it takes pain to save pain. So they put rota­tion­al units through the most real­is­tic and chal­leng­ing train­ing pos­si­ble, enhanced by role-play­ers por­tray­ing Afghan lead­ers and cit­i­zens and a for­mi­da­ble oppos­ing force that repli­cates a wily and ever-adapt­ing insurgency. 

Army Sgt. Dar­rell Blige, a trainer/mentor for the past year, remem­bers the chal­lenges he’d faced going through JRTC before deploy­ing to Afghanistan in 2007 as an 82nd Air­borne Divi­sion pla­toon sergeant. 

“They beat me down on the lanes out there,” he said, refer­ring to the mis­sion-ori­ent­ed sit­u­a­tion­al train­ing exer­cise lanes that pro­vide indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive tasks and bat­tle drills instruc­tion under real­is­tic conditions. 

“But it all paid off when I got to Afghanistan,” Blige said. “I see the val­ue of mak­ing the train­ing here as hard as it can be.” 

Now Blige is help­ing the 4th BCT Cur­ra­hees’ dis­tri­b­u­tion pla­toon and for­ward sup­port com­pa­ny fine-tune their con­voy oper­a­tions skills. The train­ing focus­es heav­i­ly on secur­ing con­voys against impro­vised explo­sive devices and direct attacks as the sol­diers move mis­sion-crit­i­cal water, food, fuel, con­struc­tion mate­ri­als and ammu­ni­tion. “We repli­cate the chal­lenges they will face down­range. We don’t dupli­cate them exact­ly,” Keav­e­ny said. 

“Some areas don’t have a mor­tar threat today. Some areas don’t have a rock­et threat today. But there are cer­tain things we always train, because con­di­tions fluc­tu­ate as the ene­my adapts to our tac­tics,” he said. “Beyond that, we stay linked very, very close­ly to what is going on down­range so we can accu­rate­ly repli­cate what they will face.” 

Keaveny’s work with the rota­tion­al train­ing units starts months before they arrive at this iso­lat­ed west­ern Louisiana pine for­est. His team flies to the unit’s home sta­tion to pro­vide pre-rota­tion­al instruc­tion, and enhances that with inter­ac­tive DVDs, video tele­con­fer­ences and oth­er train­ing tools. 

“We use the term ‘get­ting left of the rota­tion,’ ” Keav­e­ny said. “We don’t wait until they arrive. We start as far out as human­ly pos­si­ble, pro­vid­ing trends, best prac­tices, class­es. The list of class­es is a mile long in what we pro­vide the rotation.” 

From his first meet­ing with incom­ing com­man­ders, Keav­e­ny tells them straight up: “Here are the fric­tions you will face.” He lists them, and then says, “Here is the best prac­tice out of the two years I have been doing this. This is the No. 1 tac­tic, tech­nique or pro­ce­dure, to avoid that fric­tion or make the most of it.” 

But Keav­e­ny and his train­er-men­tors also rec­og­nize there’s no sim­ple, cook­ie-cut­ter for­mu­la for every sit­u­a­tion they’ll face in Afghanistan. 

“It is very easy for me to say, ‘Here is the prob­lem and here is the solu­tion,’ ” he said. “The hard part is help­ing them achieve that capa­bil­i­ty. Get­ting to that is how we spend the major­i­ty of the time here.” 

Favor­ing the “human dimen­sion,” with more back-and-forth dis­cus­sions than for­mal brief­in­gs or data charts, Keav­e­ny strives to help rota­tion­al com­mand groups iden­ti­fy strengths and weak­ness­es dur­ing their train­ing rotations. 

“I’ll ask them, ‘What fric­tions have we had today? And what do we need to do to make it smoother or gain more effi­cien­cy or effec­tive­ness?’ ” he said. 

Keav­e­ny rec­og­nizes that it’s easy while oper­at­ing with­in a JRTC sce­nario “to be con­sumed by what is going on right now” rather than look­ing out at the big, strate­gic pic­ture. “So I look out ahead to iden­ti­fy where mul­ti­ple oper­a­tions will over­lap, where the ene­my might poten­tial­ly take advan­tage of us, where we might have missed some­thing because we were so con­sumed by what is going on right now,” he said. “We try to iden­ti­fy those for the lead­er­ship ahead of time so we – the TMs in the unit – can work our sys­tems to pre­vent that problem.” 

Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Cogdell, a Fort Riley, Kan., sol­dier aug­ment­ing JRTC’s trainer/mentor staff, said he found tremen­dous val­ue in the feed­back he received at JRTC when his 1st Infantry Divi­sion unit con­duct­ed its train­ing rota­tion for Iraq. 

“I can stand back and see things a pla­toon sergeant does­n’t see because he is in the mid­dle of the fight,” he said. “Even the most elite unit has room for improve­ment, and dif­fer­ent set­tings make you look at things in a dif­fer­ent way.” 

When he assess­es what his trainer/mentors bring to the JRTC train­ing expe­ri­ence, Keav­e­ny sums it up with the sage advice that a for­mer sergeant major trainer/mentor had pro­vid­ed to incom­ing rota­tion­al units. 

“He said, ‘You need to leave here with con­fi­dence in your­self, your equip­ment and your lead­er­ship,’ ” Keav­e­ny said. “When you think about it, he was dead right. That’s what we’re after: con­fi­dence in those three things.” 

That’s exact­ly what Sgt. Ryan McGrath, a 4th BCT sol­dier, said he’s gain­ing dur­ing his JRTC rotation. 

“This is some of the best train­ing we get out here,” said McGrath, as he con­duct­ed a road­side secu­ri­ty mis­sion under the watch­ful eyes of trainer/mentor Staff Sgt. Chris Ream. “They try to make it as real-life as pos­si­ble out here .… It’s a big part of get­ting us in the ‘green mode,’ prepped and ready for deployment.” 

Army Com­mand Sgt. Maj. Monte Abshi­er rec­og­nizes that rota­tion­al units already have exten­sive train­ing – and in many cas­es, deploy­ment expe­ri­ence – under their belts when they arrive at JRTC

“They already have their sys­tems in place. What we try to get them to do is work their sys­tems here at JRTC,” he said. “JRTC gives them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to test them in a real­is­tic envi­ron­ment that repli­cates almost every­thing they can expect to encounter in [the com­bat] theater.” 

Army Staff Sgt. Jason Wells, JRTC’s newest trainer/mentor, ensures rota­tion­al train­ing units learn the basics that served him well dur­ing 37 months of deploy­ments in Iraq. “Are they doing bat­tle drills to stan­dard?” Wells said. “Are they assess­ing casu­al­ties to stan­dard? Are they doing sit­u­a­tion­al reports? Are they keep­ing the com­man­der informed?” Wells said he also pulls rota­tion­al pla­toon sergeants aside to remind them of some of the eas­i­ly over­looked fundamentals. 

“You can’t always run these guys 100 miles an hour,” he explained. “An aggres­sive pla­toon isn’t a bad thing. But some­times you need to calm down, catch your breath and assess the sit­u­a­tion. If you don’t, that’s what can lead you into an ambush. You can be bait­ed into something.” 

Review­ing his own expe­ri­ence as a trainer/mentor, Klein­hans said there’s tremen­dous grat­i­fi­ca­tion in help­ing rota­tion­al units fine-tune their sys­tems before deploying. 

“This job is great, being able to watch sol­diers come here at one lev­el, then be at a dif­fer­ent lev­el when they leave,” he said. “It’s not some­thing that hap­pens in leaps and bounds. It’s grad­ual. And it isn’t some­thing we give them in the class­room. It’s on the ground, employ­ing their tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures in the most real­is­tic envi­ron­ment we can give them.” 

Klein­hans said his expe­ri­ence as a trainer/mentor at Fort Polk will give him a tremen­dous leg up when he goes to Afghanistan with the 101st Air­borne Division. 

“Being able to be an out­sider look­ing in gives you a per­spec­tive not a lot of peo­ple get in the Army,” he said. “The biggest thing peo­ple take out of this expe­ri­ence is learn­ing from the mis­takes they make. I get to see what peo­ple do, both right and wrong, and it gives me a lot of insights that I can put into my kit bag and take with me.” 

(This is the third in a series about how the Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter at Fort Polk, La., is prepar­ing the 101st Air­borne Division’s 4th Brigade Com­bat Team for its upcom­ing deploy­ment to Afghanistan.) 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →