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Exercise leaves imprint on Soldiers, Pacific region

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Feb. 13, 2015) -- Some 60 percent of the nearly 700 Soldiers who deployed last August to Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan, as part of the 2014 Pacific Pathways deployment, had never deployed before.

"Many of them were in high school just a year prior. The opportunity to build important relationships, and gain new experiences - just like these - are why Soldiers join the Army," said Col. Louis A. Zeisman, commander of the 2nd Stryker Brigade, 7th Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

The 2014 Pacific Pathways deployment was the first of its kind and served as a proof-of-principle for the Army, Zeisman said. The deployment, which began in August, lasted more than 12 weeks, and involved nearly 700 Soldiers from the 2nd Stryker Brigade, as well as additional Soldiers from the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.

As part of the first-ever Pacific Pathways, Soldiers partnered with the armies of three nations to train together on scenarios involving, among other things, humanitarian relief, medical evacuation, counter-improvised explosive device operations, urban counter-insurgency operations and jungle survival, as well as both air and ground maneuver.

Exercises Garuda Shield in Indonesia, Keris Strike in Malaysia, and Orient Shield in Japan were all part of 2014 Pacific Pathways. Each is a combined exercise the Army has participated in historically. The Army conducts such exercises in partnership with the host-nation armies.

As part of the 2014 Pacific Pathways deployment, Garuda Shield and Keris Strike were conducted simultaneously. The 2nd Stryker Brigade was split - with some Soldiers going to Indonesia and some going to Malaysia to participate. At the conclusion of those two exercises, the brigade moved their gear and personnel to northern Japan to participate in Orient Shield.

During all three operations, the headquarters element of the 2nd Stryker Brigade was there to provide oversight of exercise operations.

"In every country we went to, we had the opportunity to do that staff-to-staff engagement, that leader engagement, and the planning," Zeisman said. "The scenario wasn't so much the thing we focused on. It was everything else we got besides the scenario - how are we communicating? How are we sitting? How are we moving? How do aircraft fly in the same air space?"

MALAYSIA

As part of Keris Strike in Malaysia, mission objectives included a staff training exercise where the participating brigades "planned for and reacted to a humanitarian assistance disaster-relief scenario, which was essentially a flood in Malaysia," said Maj. Joshua D. Powers, brigade planner and operations officer, with 2nd Stryker Brigade. "We had to work through the intricacies of helping out the civilian population."

Powers said the flood scenario proved relevant to the participating Malaysian army unit because the scenario took place in the area of the country for which they are responsible.

To further tactical training objectives, Powers said, the 1-17th Infantry, 2nd Stryker Brigade, was paired with a Malaysian infantry unit. As part of that partnership, the Malaysian army provided the Americans with jungle training, something they don't have the opportunity to train on in the U.S.

"Nobody does jungle field training like the Malaysian army does," said Lt. Col. Shannon E. Nielsen, commander, 1-17th Infantry. "We don't have that expertise like they do. We learned an incredible amount about how to operate in that environment and how to deploy systems there."

Sgt. 1st Class Desmond H. Politini, platoon sergeant for 1-17th Infantry, said that the Soldiers in his unit were impressed with the professionalism that the Malaysian army displayed, and were fascinated with the jungle training they received while in country - and remain so today.

"We never received any kind of training remotely like that," said Politini of the jungle training. "In fact, you won't get that anywhere you go in the United States. For the Soldiers ... one of the biggest takeaways was just learning how to survive off the jungle. One of the key things they taught us was how to trap animals. The Soldiers were blown away by that. As a matter of fact, those guys are doing that to this day, back at the unit."

Nielsen said that in addition to the jungle and survival training provided by the Malaysian army, there was also counter-insurgency training. He said that while many U.S. Soldiers are familiar with counter-insurgency operations from their time in Iraq and Afghanistan, similar operations in Malaysia, conducted by the Malaysian army, are different than what U.S. troops are familiar with.

"It was good to hear their perspectives on that," Nielsen said.

Training in Malaysia went both ways, Nielsen said, and was beneficial to both armies.

"We learned just as much from the Malaysian army as we were able to teach them," Nielsen said.

INDONESIA

As part of the Garuda Shield portion of the 2014 Pacific Pathways deployment, Powers said, the culminating training event involved a "combined-arms live fire."

During that event, Powers said about 400 U.S. Soldiers as well as Indonesian soldiers maneuvered on the ground, both dismounted and in vehicles -- including Strykers and the Indonesian equivalent. There was also mortar fire, and both U.S. and Indonesian aircraft operating in the same air space.

The largest take-away from the training there, Powers said, "Was less about the actual combined arms live-fire, but more about weeks and weeks of rehearsals to gain synchronization and to be able to accomplish that objective."

Powers said the exercise in Indonesia also included medical and jungle training and other activities to further training objectives.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher J. Korntved, assistant operations sergeant for 2-1 Infantry, worked in the operations cell for his battalion while participating in the Indonesian portion of 2014 Pacific Pathways. While he said he didn't train with the Indonesian military, he did, as an observer, see that training that was going on.

"One of the biggest takeaways I saw and observed there was the Indonesian army's professionalism and pride within their unit. It was the same with our Soldiers, who wanted to demonstrate our professionalism and pride," Korntved said. "One of the common things that army-to-army interactions and engagements have, is even though there is a language barrier, we all still speak 'soldier.'"

JAPAN

While the 2nd Stryker Brigade was split for participation in Malaysia and Indonesia, the brigade came together to train in Hokkaido, Japan, with the 7th Armor Division of the Northern Army, part of the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force.

Part of that training event included a staff training exercise where they planned a scenario against a hypothetical invasion. The culminating event was a ground-force maneuver with both American and Japanese Soldiers.

"It was about relationships," Powers said. "It goes back to building relationships with counterparts. My counterpart was the 7th Division operations officer. He was a colonel, I am a major, and he had substantially more experience than I do. I felt as I sat next to him -- we worked through these scenarios and worked through logistics to support everything -- that I was in school. I took notes constantly. I grew as an officer as a result of that experience. I think that is really what Orient Shield and Pacific Pathways is all about."

TRAINING FOR PACIFIC PATHWAYS

Before deploying to Asia to participate in Pacific Pathways, the 2nd Stryker Brigade trained at the National Training Center, or NTC, at Fort Irwin, California.

Zeisman said they treated their Pacific Pathways involvement as a deployment, and trained as such. He said the environment in California at the NTC, coupled with the varying terrains and climates of Southeast Asia and Japan, provided Soldiers a robust and diverse experience that tested their adaptability.

"One of the things we want our Soldiers to be, from private to general, is agile and adaptive," Zeisman said. "This operation allowed us to do that. We left ... the desert, and went into where you can't see your hand in front of you - the jungle. Then we left 100-degree weather in Malaysia and Indonesia, to go to the beautiful country of Japan - where it was a drop of about 60 degrees. We went through a wide range of things to allow our Soldiers to be agile and adaptive and again, totally resilient. I think they appreciate the challenge."

Following training at the NTC, Powers said, the brigade participated in training they called "Pacific Pathways academics," which was less tactical and more educational. He said the subject-matter experts, from around the world, provided not only cultural training for Soldiers, but also "they took us all the way down to the history of the battalions that we'd interact with. Where had they trained? Who were their leaders?"

Among those trainers in "Pacific Pathways academics," Powers said, was a recently retired Malaysian one-star general.

PACIFIC PATHWAYS TAKEAWAY

While Pacific Pathways offered plenty of tactical training for 2nd Stryker Brigade, Powers said the implications of what happened during the exercise extend beyond just operations, tactics, techniques and procedures -- there is also the strategic implication of the event.

"The big takeaway ... that group of Soldiers was forward in the region for 85 days - I think that makes a strong statement," Powers said. "We are a regionally aligned brigade, and we have been for some time. But now our task force executed regional engagement. We were there, we were in the theater, and we stayed there for an extended amount of time. I think that is a strong message to ourselves, to the Army, and to our partners in the region.

"Regardless of the training objectives along the spectrum of conflict, the important part of Pacific Pathways was the soldier-to-soldier interaction, and the lasting impression that that will make for years and years with Soldiers - not just with our counterparts, but with our Soldiers within the 2nd Stryker Brigade. It really shows the importance of being engaged in the region."

There is a Pacific Pathways deployment underway now: Pacific Pathways 2015-1. The event involves the 2-25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, or 2-25, out of Hawaii. During this Pacific Pathways deployment, the 2-25 will participate in the Cobra Gold exercise in Thailand, the Foal Eagle exercise in Korea and the Balikatan exercise in the Philippines.