by Capt. Richard Packer
United States Army Alaska
July 10, 2018
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska – The execution phases of America’s First Corps’ exercise Courage Ready 18-01 began with an emergency deployment readiness exercise for Soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
The Soldiers traveled here to participate in realistic combat training intentionally complicated by distance from home station and unfamiliar terrain.
The Courage Ready training series’ inaugural exercise focused on 7th Infantry Division Soldiers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division who were hosted by U.S. Army Alaska and our 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division while training in Interior Alaska.
“This readiness exercise strengthened America’s First Corps' readiness by deploying a company into an unfamiliar environment and integrating them rapidly in support of another battalion's operations,” said Maj. Cheyne Parham, the America’s First Corps future operations planner. “This was an opportunity for units from JBLM and Alaska to reinforce our capabilities and also improve from the individual to the company and battalion through a challenging mission set.”
The most planning intensive and physically demanding quality repetitions of Courage Ready 18-01 were two company-sized night air assault missions within a four-day period. The first attack included a seven-kilometer dismounted movement through wild Alaska; the second attack’s dismounted movement was about two kilometers through hillier terrain.
For each, CH-47 Chinook helicopters piloted by 7th ID aviators stationed at Fort Wainwright with 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade transported the 2-1 IN Legionnaires.
Attack Company, 2-1 IN’s Spc. Javier Torres participated in the exercise and described an experience where he had to look out for an injured fellow team leader.
“After the enemy hit us with chemical weapons, we put on our pro[tective] masks and got back in the fight,” said Torres. “That’s when Sergeant Toves was shot.”
Sgt. Antonio Toves became a notional casualty after an observer/controller, Soldiers who provide administrative control, evaluate task performance and provide constructive feedback, gave him a card assigning a head wound requiring at least initial combat lifesaver-level treatment and evacuation.
“We were still in the middle of a fight. Me and another guy got Sergeant Toves behind cover and bandaged his head,” continued Torres. “I knew the rest of the platoon needed to know the status of our teams, so I used Sergeant Toves’ radio to call up a [situation report], left him with a battle buddy, and continued mission.”
According to Maj. Josh Daily, 7th Infantry Division future operations and training officer, the challenges presented by the environment at U.S. Army Garrison-Alaska’s Donnelly Training Area cannot be replicated anywhere in the state of Washington and very few places worldwide.
“The effects of the terrain on dismounted and mounted movement, the difference in hours of darkness and daylight, and the environmental effects on communication, just to name a few of the myriad factors unique to this area,” said Daily, “all combine to pose a serious test that stresses all members of the unit from the commander down to the most junior rifleman.”
“To deploy here rapidly and plan and execute a company-level offensive operation is to experience a blunt reiteration of the importance of discipline in planning and execution.”
Donnelly Training Area, part of the 1.5 million acres of maneuver land in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, includes an intermediate staging base, artillery and weapons ranges, a combined arms combat training facility, simulated villages, etc., all spread across 567,734 acres of light maneuver and 87,457 acres of heavy maneuver training areas.
“JPARC integrates all domains: land, air, sea, space and cyber. That coupled with the extreme environments in Alaska afford us truly unique training opportunities that simply can’t be replicated anywhere else in the Department of Defense,” said Col. Mark Colbrook, USARAK’s deputy commander - sustainment. “During the winter we train in the dark and extreme cold when we have to slow down, be extremely methodical in our execution and really focus on learning to not only survive, but to thrive, fight and win at 20, 30, even 50 degrees below zero.”
“Summer is the just opposite. We have moderate temperatures and 20+ hours of daylight, we can get rep after quality rep in all day long to ensure we absolutely master the fundamentals of warfighting.”
Speaking of future Courage Ready rotations, Parham sees America’s First Corps units with 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii participating in the no notice/limited notice emergency deployment training as well.
“While this exercise involved Soldiers from JBLM and Alaska, future iterations will include Soldiers from Hawaii into the rotation.”