News: Engineering Commander breaks a S.W.E.A.T. at CSTX 91
Story by Sgt. Anderson J. Grant
FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. – Fear, confusion and nervousness consumed 779th Engineering Company commander 1st Lieutenant Christopher A. Swanson. The clock had not yet reached 7:30 a.m. but he had reached his tipping point, and could only stand there in front of his entire convoy, ruffled, as if he had lost something dear to him.
Truth had hit him hard. Swanson was not as prepared as he’d thought. In his two years of Army Reserve service, he had done nothing like this before. He had not deployed, but he had completed individual leadership training. When the time came for his unit to conduct their annual training, Swanson geared up and traveled with them to Combat Support Training Exercise (CSTX) 91 13-01 at Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., in order to gain some experience and refine his new skills.
The exercise provides realistic training to units to successfully meet the challenges of an extended and integrated battlefield. The exercise is supposed to challenge soldiers to think on their feet in any scenario so that when it comes time to put their skills to use during a real-world situation, they are ready.
Observer controller trainers (OC/Ts) are watching soldiers like Swanson and working alongside them to teach them to think critically during moments where that sort of thinking is paramount. OC/Ts are staged throughout locations during the CSTX to enhance the learning process of more than 4,000 soldiers in attendance.
“By using soft-power capabilities in a sustainment environment, we can achieve better results using non lethal effects,” said Lt. Col. Frank Copeland, an OC/T with the 75th Training Division. “There are several units that are tasked to deploy to the Afghanistan area, so we’re always training up for that.”
In Swanson’s case, it seemed that every move he made next would determine his fate or the fate of his soldiers, he said. Each decision would have to be accurate and precise, or the lives of their 346th Military Police Company escorts would be in jeopardy, he said.
The young lieutenant was engaging other soldiers in a role-playing scenario during which he had to speak with the mayor of a fictitious village. He was struggling.
“Do you even have a clue as to what you are doing, soldier?” barked Copeland. “Do you even know the Mayor’s name? What is his name? What is the Mayor’s name?”
Swanson’s eyeballs nervously scanned back and forth, his body frozen in the wake of anxiety. Fortunately - and only three feet away- the paper on top of the small stack on the hood of his Humvee was exactly what he needed. “Sa… Sahar,” Uttered the lieutenant. “Sahar Fahran.”
In the mock scenario, Cedic is a foreign village in the Middle East, which is known to be a insurgent hideout with a lack of security, running water, and economic stability. Sahar Fahran is the Mayor.
Swanson’s mission was to coordinate with him on redefining the village’s infrastructure with a S.W.E.A.T - M.S.O. (Sewer, Water, Electric, Academics, Trash – Medical, Safety, Other) assessment.
The ideal end to the scenario was as follows: a liaison whose alias is “Ahmed,” would escort the convoy to search the village and make friends with the grief-stricken villagers—to let them know he was here to help. Swanson would attempt to set up an appointment for Sahar and the governor to meet with 463rd Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Kent Lightner. Lightner would perform the S.W.E.A.T. assessment.
One false move by anyone and this real world scenario would end in bloodshed. “In real life you don’t always know what could have happened if you had done this or done that. Here you do,” explained Lightner.
Swanson successfully completed his mission at Cedic Village with some mission plan restructuring, and a little assistance from his staff. Lt. Col. Lightner assessed his performance—he did well.
Training scenarios like this can be critical for the 463rd engineers. A part of their mission is to support coalition efforts in promoting stability in and generating trust in foreign governments. Knowing what is in a town allows them to plan and perform their jobs affectively. Understanding how to interact with the people and express empathetic values keeps them at least one step ahead of the enemy.
“I’m not perfect, but I think I did pretty well, said Swanson. “It may not be a good thing, but I’m hard on myself. I beat myself up a lot, but I learn from my (mistakes).”
“ I thought he did great,” expressed Lightner. “He listens to his non-commissioned officers. And they’ve been helping him through the areas he’s inexperienced in. He’s a pretty bright guy, and has a general idea of what he’s supposed to do.”
Lightner says that if a soldier doesn’t plan a mission right or does not pay attention, and (soldiers) get attacked by the enemy, the citizens may not have gotten the help they needed.
“This (training) allows units at all levels, from squads all the way up to the battalion and the brigade to have to execute realistic missions and have to deal with all of the things that come out of that.”
Combat Support Training Exercise 91 13-01 is planned and coordinated by the 91st Training Division at Fort Hunter Liggett. The CSTX gives participating units an opportunity to rehearse military maneuvers and tactics such as base security, convoy operations, and battle reaction drills during simulated enemy attacks as well as apply their military occupational specialty skills in a theater of operations.