With the recent sequestration and deep budget cuts underway across the entire Army, it was uncertain whether Division West’s 166th Aviation Brigade would conduct training for the Texas Army National Guard’s 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, set to deploy to Kuwait, in the sophisticated flight simulation center at Fort Rucker, Ala., last month, said Col. Kevin Vizzarri, 166th Aviation Brigade commander.
However, with the exception of a few minor changes, the training was “business as usual.”
The brigade’s battalions conduct the majority of training, ensuring that Army National Guard and Army Reserve aviation units are properly prepared for deployments. However, for the 36th Brigade’s aviation training exercise, the bulk of the brigade staff was employed to help train the unit.
Maj. Jeff Christy, a plans officer with the 166th Aviation Brigade, characterized the training in three phases. “First you crawl, then you walk and, finally, you run,” Christy said.
The 166th Brigade kicked off the first phase of the exercise at North Fort Hood, leading the 36th in the Army’s military decision-making process, which consists of detail-oriented, step-by-step analysis. In this stage, the brigade’s staff sections prepared for worst-case scenarios downrange by thinking through various courses of action, including each action’s second- and third-order effects or consequences.
In the second phase, the 166th facilitated a command post exercise, also at North Fort Hood, in concert with the 75th Division. Under the direction of the 166th Aviation Brigade, the 75th Division created and managed an array of hypothetical situations meant to stress the staff of the deploying unit, Christy said. In a single day, they might face a death of a soldier, a soldier who is absent without leave and a downed aircraft, as well as a social media uproar such as a negative video “going viral.”
The third and final phase of the 10-day exercise took place in the Fort Rucker flight simulation center. The goal was to implement the feedback from the previous phases and apply it in a much more realistic environment. Not only did the 166th Aviation Brigade continue to test the 36th’s standard operating procedures, reporting mechanisms and commander’s critical information requirements, they also tested the unit’s flight operations using the Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer simulators and their operators.
In addition to game play, the two-week training in Alabama consisted of intelligence updates, in-depth cultural awareness training to prepare the Texas soldiers for the culture in which they are soon to be immersed, a safety brief illustrating the importance of aircraft maintenance, and a final after-action review highlighting the unit’s overall strengths and weaknesses.