“When the nation calls 911, the phone rings at Fort Bragg.”
After months of planning and rehearsals, the XVIII Airborne Corps immersed itself in a digital warfighter exercise to ensure the Corps is ready to do just that: answer the call.
Warfighter 18-4 is a multi-echelon exercise designed to enhance lethality and increase readiness by replicating the realistic and complex environment in which the Corps must be prepared to fight. Although this was a virtual exercise, the Corps and other units tested their ability to operate in an expeditionary environment by deploying their full complement of combat equipment at locations across Fort Bragg, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and Fort Carson, Colorado.
“Readiness is our number one priority, but readiness is also perishable,” said Brig. Gen. Xavier Brunson, XVIII Airborne Corps Chief of Staff. The warfighter allowed us to work through a wide variety of scenarios and problem sets to hone that edge, so the Corps is ready to go anywhere at any time,” he added.
Here at Bragg, more than 800 Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen converged on the Deglopper Air Assault School complex for this 10-day exercise. During the exercise, units participating as the primary training audience set up tactical operations centers and operated as if they were in a deployed status. Military vehicles, concertina wire, and antenna were scattered among the crowded footprint of tactical tents and generators both at Fort Bragg and Fort Carson.
Though isolated to a small compound, the digital exercise replicated a battle-space stretching hundreds of miles and involving multiple subordinate divisions and supporting units. This enabled the Corps to exercise mission command while working through multiple problem sets and scenarios.
While the Corps regularly participates in warfighter exercises, this was the first time a special operations and U.K. unit were fully integrated at this scope and scale.
“Interoperability with our partners is a key component (to our mission success). The lessons we have learned in our interoperability will pay huge dividends for our Corps going forward,” said Brunson.
The 1st Special Forces Command’s participation as the Special Operations Joint Task Force marks the first time ever an Army special operations two-star headquarters was fully immersed as a primary training audience. The 19th Special Forces Group served as the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, and both 95th Civil Affairs Brigade and 528th Sustainment Brigades provided expertise in their respective areas as Task Forces under the SOJTF.
“Really, this is a chance to exercise SOF mission command,” said Col. Josh Walker, chief of staff for the 1st Special Forces Command. It forces us to synchronize all of our warfighting and joint warfighting functions.”
Walker pointed out that this integration is critical for SOF and conventional force interoperability.
The warfighter also enabled interoperability with a key ally and NATO partner nation.
More than 1,100 United Kingdom Soldiers participated in the exercise. The 3rd U.K. Army Division traveled nearly 3,500 miles and established a tactical operations center at Holland Drop Zone, marking the first time that a U.K. army division headquarters took part in a warfighter exercise.
Members from the U.K. unit spent about two months on Fort Bragg preparing and executing the exercise.
“This exercise has been an extremely challenging but rewarding learning experience for the 3rd U.K. Division,” said Maj. Gen. N. R. M. Borton, commanding general of the 3rd U.K. Division. “We feel incredibly privileged to be tested to such a high standard and develop interoperability between the U.S. and U.K. It has been an absolute pleasure working with the XVIII Airborne Corps and 4th Infantry divisions, and I hope that the ‘Iron Division’ can continue to grow alongside its US partner,” he added.
When asked what the biggest lesson he hoped the Corps would learn from this warfighter, Brunson didn’t hesitate.
“We don’t have to do this alone,” he said, referring to the joint, interagency, and partner nation team.
In September, the Corps returned from Kuwait after serving 13 months as the headquarters of the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, the global coalition to defeat ISIS. The warfighter is the latest of several readiness training events executed by the corps over the last year.
Participating units included:
XVIII Airborne Corps Headquarters, Fort Bragg
4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colorado 3rd (UK) Armd Div., Wiltshire, United Kingdom 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, Fort Bragg 1st Special Forces Command, Fort Bragg.