Warfighter 20-1 tests 29th ID combat readiness

Brig. Gen. John Rhodes, the 29th Infantry Division Deputy Commanding General for Operations, participates in a mock media interview during the Warfighter exercise Sept. 25-Oct. 11, 2019, at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. More than 450 National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division from Virginia and Maryland, as well as Soldiers from seven other states came together to participate in the exercise whose purpose was to validate and synchronize the decisive, shaping, and sustaining operations from division down through the brigades and across all warfighting functions.

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – More than 450 National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division from Virginia and Maryland, as well as Soldiers from seven other states came together to participate in a Warfighter exercise Sept. 25-Oct. 11, 2019, at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.

These Soldiers, as well as dozens more from the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania- based 28th Infantry Division, the Fort Campbell, Kentucky-based 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington-based I Corps, participated in Warfighter 20-1, a culminating exercise designed to test and formally evaluate the readiness of the division staff to operate as a forward-deployed command headquarters.

Also included in the training audience was the Arkansas National Guard’s 142nd Field Artillery Brigade and 77th Combat Aviation Brigade, the South Carolina National Guard’s 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, the New Mexico National Guard’s 111th Sustainment Brigade and the Virginia National Guard’s 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

“The 29th ID staff prepared for this important training event over the last 13 months and committed a significant amount of additional training days,” said Col. Preston Scott the 29th ID chief of staff. “The preparations paid off as the staff increased its knowledge and improved its ability to integrate and synchronize intelligence and fires to enable maneuver in multi-domain operations.” 

The intent of the Warfighter exercise is to validate and synchronize the decisive, shaping, and sustaining operations from division down through the brigades and across all warfighting functions. The exercise focused on training and evaluating the various division staff elements and warfighting functions on command and control in a simulated, forward-deployed combat environment. 

The exercise used computer simulations to replicate the challenges of operating in a combat environment. At each stage, new challenges were introduced into the scenario to test the readiness of equipment and personnel.

“Warfighter is the premiere command training event for a division headquarters. It is the only place where all levels of the organization, from division down through the various brigades and battalions, can come together in a simulated conflict and execute all of their warfighting functions at the same time,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Ferris, 29th Infantry Division command sergeant major.

Soldiers from I Corps served as the division’s higher-headquarters for the exercise; while the 101st Airborne Division and 28th operated alongside the 29th in the simulation. The participation of these units helped to add to the sense of realism within the simulation, by providing leaders within the division the opportunity to coordinate and interact with units at various levels and locations, even across time zones, as they would in a real-world scenario.

“A warfighter exercise is the pinnacle training event for a division staff. This simulation challenges members to rapidly assess unfamiliar terrain, geopolitical conditions and a peer adversary in order to develop detailed plans to defeat our competition in large scale ground combat operations,” said Scott.

The entire exercise was overseen by observer coach/trainers and senior mentors from the Mission Command Training Support Program from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Each member of this team has been certified through a rigorous training program and are subject matter experts on doctrine and their specific war fighting function. They played a critical role by mentoring and providing feedback to all staff members from the initial planning phase to the after-action review.

“My biggest take-away from this exercise has been how the Army National Guard continues to be a learning organization. We started the exercise working slowly and methodically, learning from one another, and by the end it all culminated in mission success,” said Ferris.

The Soldiers of the 29th have been preparing for this culminating exercise for just over a year and had to successfully hit specific milestones along the way. One of those milestones was the Command Post Exercise that took place in June, also at Fort Indiantown Gap. The CPX served as a “dry run” for the Warfighter.

“I absolutely want to recognize and thank the families and civilian employers of our Citizen-Soldiers,” added Ferris. “Their continued support has been paramount to our readiness and success.”