WASHINGTON — An exercise under way in Germany – the largest in more than two decades in terms of the training area committed, the scope of operations and the number of participants – is providing a template for the way U.S. ground forces will incorporate the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan as they train for future operations.
Saber Junction 2012 kicked off Oct. 7 and will continue through October. It brings together almost 4,000 participants from the Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment and 17 allied and partner nations, as well as U.S. government agencies.
Saber Junction represents a lot of firsts as it sets the stage for post-Iraq and -Afghanistan training, explained Army Lt. Col. Eric Smith, brigade observer-controller-trainer at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center.
Rather than training specifically for counterinsurgency operations — the focus of the center’s training rotations for the past decade — participants will conduct the full spectrum of combat operations as they also face medium- and high-intensity threats.
“The [2nd Cavalry] regiment will have to deal with enemy conventional forces that are almost as good as they are,” Smith said. “They will have to deal with insurgents, terrorists, criminals and the population, as well as allied forces, the interagency and media. All of that will be out there, and all of it will affect the operational environment they are working in.”
This “decisive action training environment,” referred to as DATE, is incorporated in the Army’s new unified land operations training doctrine. It’s transforming training not just at the JMRC in Germany, but also at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.
“The Army has decided that there are a whole lot of important lessons we have learned coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and we have to keep those,” Smith said. “But we can’t just train for those environments. We have to train for something that is going to happen in the next 10 to 15 years, and that is what the DATE is.”
The hundreds of military aircraft and wheeled and tracked vehicles participating in Saber Junction require more expansive maneuver space than the Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas in Germany offer. So, for the first time since the Return of the Forces to Germany exercise series ended in 1989, participants will operate across a sweeping area that encompasses not only the two training areas, but also the Bavarian villages, forests and farmland between them.
This extended maneuver rights area, more than 1,300 square miles, is only slightly smaller than the massive National Training Center in California’s Mojave Desert, said Ernest Roth, Joint Multinational Training Command’s maneuver control officer, who negotiated with the German government to get the required permissions.
“We needed a lot of area to replicate the appropriate battle space because of the mission sets the 2nd Cavalry Regiment will be called upon to execute in terms of low-, mid- or high-intensity conflict,” Roth said.
“It requires a lot of space to work the command, control and communications piece and all the digital constructs,” he explained. “And at the same time, this gives the soldiers a variety of terrain in order for their leaders to meet certain training objectives based on realistic terrain like what they could have to fight on.”
Smith called the chance to conduct the largest U.S. maneuver exercise in Germany since 1989 vital to ensuring U.S., partner and allied countries are prepared for the future.
“It’s absolutely critical, as we move forward, to be able to do that,” Smith said. “Because then, we really stress the units in terms of their ability to operate over distances, to communicate, to run logistics. All of those things get worked that wouldn’t if constrained to just the training areas we have.”
As they operate together during Saber Junction helping the notional oil-rich country of Atropia confront a litany of challenges, the participants forge relationships as they increase their interoperability, he said.
“We learn from each other and really get to work together under stressful, realistic circumstances,” Smith said. “It is really fantastic to be able to bring all that together. It is something that you can’t really do anywhere else.”
Carefully constructed training scenarios are designed to force participants to stretch beyond the experiences many of them gained in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“As we look toward these threats in the future, we really have to go back and challenge some of our basic assumptions we have going in,” Smith said. “Because we have been doing a similar mission for the last 10 years, we run the risk of assuming that this is how things are going to be for the next 10 years. But this type of environment forces people to go back and say, ‘Hey, I have gotten used to doing this for a decade, and I have grown accustomed to one thing. But now I have to do something else.”
That “something else” will continue to include interagency partners, said Jim Derleth, JMRC’s senior interagency training advisor. He was instrumental in getting seven U.S. agencies to commit representatives to the exercise, integrating their goals, capabilities and authorities into the play.
“If you don’t have the rest of the [U.S. government] involved in a DATE rotation, how can you replicate the conditions that the military will be asked to accomplish?” Derleth questioned.
Training scenarios have been designed to ensure that military participants recognize their tactical operations can’t be conducted in a vacuum, and have to support U.S. government goals, he explained. “The question will be how this fits into the bigger context of U.S. foreign policy or U.S. national security policy,” he said.
Saber Junction, Derleth said, will help ensure that interagency cooperation strengthened during the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan continues into the future. “We are trying not to lose those lessons,” he said. “If we don’t keep track of the lessons of the last 10 years, we are not going to be effective.”