‘Know thy enemy’ Army Reserve, active duty OPFOR team enhance skills

by Maj. Sean Casey
78th Training Division

1/20/2015 – FORT A.P. HILL, Va. — Soldiers from the 78th Training Division and 101st Airborne Division join together to act as the Opposing Force (OPFOR) helping facilitate the 78th Training Division’s Warrior Exercise (WAREX) “Arctic Lightning” at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, Jan. 10 to Jan. 31.

Sunlight breaks through the upper canopy of the tree line bringing a glimpse of physical comfort to January’s frigid early morning moments before the OPFOR soldier breaks the silence and initiates his attack. The OPFOR’s mission this day is to ambush a U.S. convoy to test the convoy soldiers’ abilities to react correctly to a complex attack consisting of an IED and small-arms fire.

78th soldiers, who’ve had a lot of experience as OPFOR, taught us about threat behaviors, equipment and tactics, which can helps us learn more about the enemy, said Capt. Jeff Tolbert, commander of the 101st Airborne Division’s Charlie Company, 1-327 Infantry Regiment. “We’ve had an easy time integrating into the 78th’s OPFOR cell and have well a running team.”

Tolbert’s soldiers from Fort Campbell, Ky. teamed up with soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Operations Brigade, 78th Training Division from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. The division’s mission is to organize and host WAREX’s and Combat Support Training Exercises (CSTX) to train and assess U.S. Army Reserve units as they progress through the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) cycle.

“I’d rather units experience these threats here in a training environment first,” said Maj. Robin Islam, a commander from 3-329 Regiment, 3rd Operations Brigade, 78th Training Division. Islam’s mission during “Arctic Lightning” is to think like the enemy and organize his soldiers and role players to make the training as realistic as possible for units.

The 78th Training Division, along with other similarly organized units from the National Training Center or Joint Readiness Training Center, use Decisive Action Training Environment (DATE) 2.1, essentially a playbook for exercise planners to develop a scenario that’s highly likely to exist in the real world, Islam said.

Noncommissioned officers under Islam’s command underwent specific training at an academy that teaches soldiers about “hybrid” variables in geographic regions throughout the world. These variables range from loosely organized guerrilla forces and criminal organizations to foreign populations organized by cultural norms. DATE 2.1 is based on current intelligence, and injects a myriad of challenges for training units to face while simulating a real-world operational environment.

Organizing and acting as the OPFOR not only provides units training value, but provides the OPFOR soldiers a great training experience.

“Plenty of the soldiers in my and Capt. Tolbert’s command have witnessed and experienced real-world threats we’re simulating,” Islam said. “By having these soldiers already knowing our own tactics and, now, an increased understanding of the enemy’s tactics, they can be an even more flexible and effective combat leader.”

“Arctic Lightning” has approximately 4,000 service members, mainly from the U.S. Army Reserve, training on four military installations; Fort A.P. Hill, Va., Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and Joint Readiness Training Center, La. The exercise also incorporates numerous aviation and special operations units from the active duty Army, along with units from the U.S. Navy Reserve.

“It’s been a phenomenal experience mixing the expertise of our soldiers in the Army Reserve with the experience and knowledge of the soldiers from the 101st,” Islam said.

Pfc. Jonathan Elledge and Pfc. Ryan Williams from Charlie Company, 1-327 Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, egress from their fighting positions during a simulated ambush on Fort A.P. Hill, Va., Jan. 16, 2015. The soldiers provide realistic encounters to units as they operate in a simulated operation environment. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Phillip Scaringi/Released)

Pfc. Jonathan Elledge and Pfc. Ryan Williams from Charlie Company, 1-327 Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, egress from their fighting positions during a simulated ambush on Fort A.P. Hill, Va., Jan. 16, 2015. The soldiers provide realistic encounters to units as they operate in a simulated operation environment. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Phillip Scaringi/Released)

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