Magazine article National Defense

National Guard: State Units Test Portable Combat Training Program

Magazine article National Defense

National Guard: State Units Test Portable Combat Training Program

Article excerpt

The National Guard--under pressure to keep supplying thousands of troops for Iraq and Afghanistan--is pioneering what it says is a more efficient, less expensive way to train those soldiers for combat.

The goal is to provide a possible solution to a growing problem for all U.S. ground combat forces, explained Col. Philip A. Stemple, chief of the National Guard Bureau's training division, headquartered in Arlington, Va.

Transporting large organizations of soldiers, their equipment and vehicles thousands of miles to the Army's major combat maneuver training centers at Fort Irwin, Calif.; Fort Polk, La., and Hohenfels, Germany, to fine-tune their war-fighting skills before deployment is both time-consuming and costly, Stemple told National Defense.

Also, the centers can't keep up with the demand for training, he said. "They can do 22 brigade-size exercises a year. The Army requirement is 34 a year. So we asked ourselves, 'What can we do to mitigate this?'"

The Guard has come up with a program--called the exportable combat training capability, or XCTC--that conducts the schooling at bases in the soldiers' home states. "The key word is 'capability,'" Stemple said. "These aren't centers. We take the training to the unit."

It's largely about money, he said. "In today's constrained environment, we can save money by focusing on training and not troop movements. It's a real no-brainer. All I'm trying to do right now is get the idea institutionalized."

The Guard developed the portable training concept in 2004 in cooperation with two California companies, SRI International, of Menlo Park, and Cubic Corp., of San Diego.

SRI provided electronic training technologies, including video cameras and global positioning system instrumentation that record the whereabouts of all soldiers, civilians and military vehicles on the battlefield, and two and three-dimensional displays that allow each training event to be replayed for analysis.

Cubic contributed realistic battlefield effects, including pyrotechnics, role players acting as insurgents and civilians on the battlefield and close-up video recorded during mock encounters between U.S. forces and the role players.

The first exercise was conducted in 2005 in Kentucky, a second took place this summer in Indiana, and a third is planned for next July at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif.

Eventually, the Guard intends to hold six XCTC exercises up to brigade level in size per year at state installations across the country. Although the training can accommodate organizations as large as brigades, it has been provided so far only to at the battalion level. The Guard plans, however, to offer the schooling to larger units.

"Indiana wants us to come back in 2008 and train a whole brigade," Stemple said.

So far, the reaction from Guardsmen participating in the exercises has been positive, said Lt. Col. Tom Hestin, chief of collective training. "They really get a lot out of it without having to leave their backyards."

At least one sticking point, however, remains currently to be resolved: Who will foot the bill? The Army still considers the programs to be experimental and won't fund them until the concept has been validated. Right now, "we're paying for them out of our own hide," Stemple said.

Validation could come soon, he said. Generals William S. Wallace, head of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command; Dan. K. McNeill, from Forces Command, and Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of the First U.S. Army, have all expressed interest in developing a version of portable training--possibly by 2010--for use not only by the Guard but also active-component Army and reserve units. TRADOC, FORSCOM and First Army share responsibility for all soldier training.

The portable training is not meant to replace the big combat training centers, but to augment them, Stemple said. …

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