CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. — More than 400 Maryland and Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers from the 29th Infantry Division joined with National Guard and active duty Soldiers from around the country, as well as active duty and Air National Guard Airmen, for a nine-day warfighter exercise Nov. 13-22 at Camp Atterbury, Ind.
The division-level warfighter exercise, Warfighter 16-2, was designed to develop, train, and exercise the warfighting functions of the 29th ID. It tested the division’s ability to coordinate a simulated battle with command and control of six brigades and more than 20,000 personnel.
“Warfighter is about learning processes and procedures and bringing together all the warfighting functions to become one team,” said Brig. Gen. Blake C. Ortner, commanding general of the 29th ID. “In that way it was a tremendous success. You learn not just what the unit can do but also what you as an individual can do.”
Although the exercise wasn’t graded, it was designed to over stress the staff in a scenario against an opponent with similar capabilities to the U.S., according to Lt. Col. Allan Carter, director of operations for the 29th ID. The opposing force offered a simulated war game exercise that was free flowing and free thinking in order to stress the staff and to show what functions the staff did well and what needed improvement, he said.
“Warfighter really stresses the people and the equipment,” Ortner said. “If you’ve got processes and procedures that might work perfect in a regular environment, they can break down in an environment like this. So you need to develop processes and procedures that can be used in any type of mission.”
Under the command of the XVIII Airborne Corps, the 29th ID and 101st Airborne Division together fought a simulated battle in the notional country of Atropia. Atropia had been invaded by the neighboring, notional country of Ariana and the two divisions fought to expel the Arianans and restore sovereignty to the people of Atropia.
The 29th ID had specific training objectives that the scenario was designed to stress, according to Carter. These training objectives were derived from the commanding general’s mission essential task list assessment. The objectives included all warfighting functions so each part of the staff would be challenged during the exercise.
In addition to the 29th ID, 101st Airborne Division and XVIII Airborne Corps, a number of Army and Air Force units from around the country participated in the giant, simulated battle. Elements of the Fort Drum-based 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade, the Virginia National Guard’s 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the Maryland National Guard’s 29th Combat Aviation Brigade, the Colorado National Guard’s 169th Field Artillery Brigade, the Georgia National Guard’s 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, the Rhode Island National Guard’s 43rd Military Police Brigade and the Virginia Air National Guard’s 200th Weather Flight were with the 29th at Camp Atterbury.
At Fort Campbell, Ky., the 101st participated in the Atropian campaign while providing command and control of its organic division assets. Elements of the XVIII Airborne Corps participated from Fort Campbell as well.
Soldiers from the 116th IBCT acted as a response cell to support the exercise, and it provided a valuable training opportunity for the brigade staff.
“It was great training for us,” said Col. William J. Coffin, commander of the 116th IBCT. “We sent a robust team of almost 40 Soldiers, mostly primary staff officers. We went beyond the the typical response cell mission and used it as a great training opportunity to establish our command post and exercise our staff procedures, especially with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and air assault planning. With many new staff members since annual training 2015, we were able to build the team and also strengthen our training partnership with the 29th ID headquarters.”
For Ortner and other senior leaders of the 29th ID, WFX 16-2 also provided an opportunity to see just how their staff performs in an operational environment, facing stressful and difficult decisions.
“I already knew they were pretty good,” Ortner said. “Here I learned how to work with them in a more stressful environment and we’re finding those individuals that handle stress very well.”
“A large percentage of the division staff had never participated in a warfighter exercise so this was a good, culminating event to show the current training level,” Carter said. “The big take away was what the division staff’s proficiency level was, where the staff excelled and where the staff could improve in providing mission command.”