By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 11, 2016) -- Soldiers with the "Big Red One" are getting ready for decisive action in the same way they build their biceps in the gym: lots of repetitions.
In the heart of the nation, at Fort Riley, Kansas, Maj. Gen. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said he believes he's got his "Big Red One" Soldiers on the right path toward readiness for decisive action -- a term that describes a fuller set of combat capabilities that goes beyond the counter-insurgency operations the Army has mastered over the last 15 years.
According to a 2014 DOD report on military demographics, about two-thirds of Soldiers are under 30 years old -- that number includes both officer and enlisted alike. Among enlisted only, about 70 percent are under age 30. If those same numbers hold true now as they did two years ago, only about one in three Soldiers in uniform today remember an Army that's done anything other than conduct COIN operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For an Army that in recent months has put an emphasis on readiness for anything -- but on near-peer conflict in particular -- a lot of work will need to be done, a lot of training, to get Soldiers spun up on a set of capabilities that's always been in Army doctrine, but that they've never had to use before.
At Fort Riley now, Soldiers are gearing up for an exercise called "Danger Focus," which will help develop leaders in the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team there prior to their National Training Center rotation in July and August.
"This training will include combined, live, virtual, constructive training at a scale that is rarely seen outside the combat training centers," Grigsby said during a March 10 video teleconference with the Pentagon Press Corp. "This will be the largest maneuver live-fire exercise ever held here at Fort Riley. Literally, I'll put the entire brigade combat team in the field. I've been in the Army for 31 years, and there are very few posts, if any in the Army, that you can take the entire BCT with all their resources and put them out in the field prior to a major training exercise at NTC."
While the 1st ABCT prepares for the NTC, Grigsby said, it is also one of the pilot brigades for the "Cyber Support to Corps and Below" concept, which includes the integration of cyber effects at the tactical edge to include training at home station, at the Army's combat training centers, and in support of real-world missions.
To that end, a team made up of personnel from U.S Army Cyber Command headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and its subordinates -- Cyber Protection Brigade, 1st Information Operations Command and 780th Military Intelligence Brigade -- are teamed up with Soldiers at Fort Riley.
"They're showing them how to harden networks, review their current cyber defense status, helping them prepare for their NTC rotation, showing them how to conduct both offensive and defensive operations -- including how to ensure they have the authority to do these things -- and also integrating our guys into the 1st ID staff," said Bill Roche, a ARCYBER spokesperson. "We're showing them how to make cyber work in tactical units. And our guys are learning too as they do this."
More than once, Grigsby bragged on the capabilities he has at Fort Riley to prepare Soldiers for force-on-force conflict with a near-peer competitor. At Fort Riley, he said, he can conduct battalion-on-battalion level training. At some Army posts, he said, the most that can be done is platoon-sized training.
"I can literally, every morning if I wanted to, put a battalion on the north side and a battalion on the south side and just joust, because of our training area," he said.
And due to the airspace access the base has been granted, he's also been able to exercise aviation in ways that are not seen outside the National Training Center.
"I can synchronize from 0 to 18,000 feet of maneuver, indirect fire, Unmanned Aerial Systems, Air Force air, attack aviation -- I can bring it all together here so they can go in at a higher level when they go to the NTC," he said.
The general said Fort Riley was the first post with an FAA-approved air corridor, for instance, that allowed Soldiers with the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team there to launch an RQ7-B Shadow UAS on a 120-mile mission last September and to then bring it home -- all in national air space.
"I got a pilot that is not just practicing flying for five miles, I can actually get him out there and practice for 120 miles to gain more experience that will help us go into our NTC at a higher level, but also prepare us for any operations we may have," Grigsby said.
Back on the ground, for the upcoming Danger Focus, Grigsby said Soldiers will be practicing brigade movement to contact -- over and over.
"There are very few posts that can do that," he said. One battalion, he said, will do live maneuver, another battalion in virtual and another in constructive. Then they will rotate through that. "They will get a bunch of repetitions. That brigade commander will get a bunch of repetitions of conducting mission command at the brigade level, prior to going to the NTC."
Younger Soldiers will get those repetitions too, he said, which develop them not just as operators, but as leaders.
"This whole training piece is going to build readiness," he said. "It's also going to give breadth and experience to a young company commander who will be a battalion S3 in the future, or a young sergeant first class who will be a company first sergeant in the future when he goes to the next unit. He will get a good amount of reps that will prepare him. So we continue to get better as we go."
Grigsby came on board at 1st ID back in August. Early on, he said, he briefed on how he planned to get after decisive-action readiness, and how brigades are going to train up to a decisive-action model. Soldiers have been eating it up since then, he said.
"Once they get a little inkling of it, and once you get them a couple of reps, they pick it up faster and they're more effective," he said. "They are simply amazing. And because of our virtual/constructive environment, I can give them 100 reps pretty cheap. That will give them some mastery, and when they go out to a live event they go to the other half of mastery: competence. They can not only fight COIN -- and they are the heroes of Iraq and Afghanistan -- but they are quickly transitioning to be the greatest leaders, the best leaders, picking up on the decisive-action offensive operations that we may conduct in the future."
NOT IN KANSAS
Grigsby said he's got about 15,000 Soldiers under his command. About 4,000 of those Soldiers, with the 2nd ABCT, are not currently in the United States. They are deployed to Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Oman -- and other locations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, conducting partnership missions with militaries there.
The general said that in Iraq, Soldiers are doing missions similar to what was going on when he served as commanding general of the Combined Joint Task Force -- Horn of Africa. They are "enabling regional partners to bring stability in their part of the world," he said.
"What was more important were the discussions they had offline, what it's like to be a Soldier, to be a part of an Army that works in democracy, what it's like to be part of an Army that has values," he said. "That's why it takes time to build these types of leaders."
In Iraq and elsewhere in the region, he said, noncommissioned officers from 2nd ABCT, 1st ID, are helping partner nations develop their own NCOs, something he said won't happen overnight.
"If you are going to develop leaders of another army, it takes time," he said. "The reason we have the best army in the world is because of our NCOs. But it takes time to build them. And we have to have patience. I think we are doing the right thing by being over there, partnering with them, enabling them to execute operations. But at the end of the day, they need to solve their problems in their part of the world."