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Future of deployments: surge-ready and rotationally-focused

By C. Todd Lopez

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (March 16, 2016) -- Most Soldiers who have been in the Army over the last 13 years have deployed at least once. Many have deployed multiple times. But the way their units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan is no longer good enough if they want to be ready for everything they'll be called upon to react to, Army leaders say.

The way the Army deployed for 13 years is "not useful for the world we live in right now," said Lt. Gen. Patrick J. Donahue III, the deputy commanding general for U.S. Army Forces Command, speaking at a symposium here, March 16.

The general outlined a prototypical deployment for a unit during the 13 years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan as an illustration of how what worked then will no longer work in the future.

He said a unit might receive from FORSCOM a tasking to go to Diyala, Iraq, and be given a 14-month lead time to prepare for that rotational deployment.

"That brigade would start focusing on that rotational mission," he said. "It would train on search and attack, it would [train on] cordon and knock, it would learn all the tribal dynamics of the Sunnis and Shias in that province, understand Kurd/Arab friction up in Khanaqin, and the Sunni/Shia friction down in Khalis, and understand the capabilities of the 5th Iraqi Army Division, and train to the tasks that were required to do those types of missions."

What the unit didn't do, he said, "was combined arms breach ... it didn't do a deliberate attack and deliberate defense. And the way that brigade deployed, it would do its training at [a] Combat Training Center, and often just go back and drop its stuff off ... at home station, fly over into theater and fall in on Theater Provided Equipment."

Donahue acknowledged that the Army has deployed a lot over the last 13 years, but said that "we have gotten rusty in our ability to deploy units and their equipment."

G-4: BACK TO BASICS

Lt. Gen. Gustave F. Perna, the Army's deputy chief of staff, G-4, said when he and other Soldiers who have been in the Army since well-before Iraq and Afghanistan think about deployments, it looks different from what the Army has been doing most recently.

"Our reflections are of the days when we had to make sure our equipment was ready, we had to load out our equipment, we had to get out to the rail heads and make sure we were rail- and air-certified," he said. "We had to understand load plans on how we wanted the equipment loaded on ships so when we got to where we wanted, the equipment came off when we needed it. That skillset is lost. And so it is, literally back to the basics, and making sure we know how to do that."

Donahue said FORSCOM has recently been pushing units through Emergency Deployment Reaction Exercises to bring their deployment skills up to snuff. One of the most ambitious of those EDREs, he said, involves a brigade with the 101st Airborne Division.

"They thought they were going to the Joint Readiness Training Center in April, as they always do, with contracted line haul and contracted rail," he said. "Last week we alerted them to instead to deploy via sea. They are shaking up all sorts of dust and knocking off all sorts of rust, as they develop, rediscover in some, probably most cases, their ability to send their 800 vehicles and 200 containers first by rail to Jacksonville, load them on ship, sail them to Port Arthur, Texas, download them, and bring them into JRTC that way ... so we are actually executing the whole process ... to see if we can make it work."

READY FOR ANYTHING

Donahue said FORSCOM has a new mission statement that for the first time includes the concept of readiness -- a direct reference to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley's No. 1 priority.

And FORSCOM's commander, Gen. Robert B. Abrams, has promised that FORSCOM units will now be "surge-ready and rotationally-focused," Donahue said.

Surge-ready, Donahue said, means that a unit's mission-essential task list or METL must include the ability to deploy with all its equipment. The installation must also have the ability to deploy that equipment and actually train for it, he said.

A unit will still be ready for rotational missions, he said, but it will also be doing decisive-action training. A unit "will first train to decisive action. It will do a deliberate attack, it will do a defense, it will do ... a battalion time on target. You never know when you will get the call to go somewhere besides that rotational mission."

The way ahead with training, Donahue said, is for units to continue to be ready for their rotational assignments. FORSCOM is "still focused on meeting combatant commander requirements," he said. But added to that is training for surge requirements. Units must first become skilled in their mission-essential task list and then train for other assigned missions, he said.

"That's big change for how we have been doing training and building readiness in FORSCOM in the last 13 years," he said.