News: CSA visits Asymmetric Warfare Group, 1st Army East
Story by Maj. Sonise Lumbaca
By Melanie Casey
Fort Meade Public Affairs
FORT MEADE, Md. - Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. spent the better part of Jan. 22 at Fort Meade, Md., learning more about the capabilities, manning and training cycles of the Asymmetric Warfare Group and First Army Division East.
In the Asymmetric Warfare Action Center, along with about 30 members of the unit, Casey listened as S-3 operations officer Lt. Col. Perry Beissel described the makeup, methodology and scope of one of the Army's newest units.
AWG is a special mission unit that works to identify critical asymmetric threats and enemy and friendly vulnerabilities through global first-hand observations, said Don Cicotte, the unit's strategic communications officer. Stood up in 2006, the unit currently has about 350 members, all of whom are hand-selected.
After Beissel's briefing, Casey headed next door to Snowden Hall, where he received detailed presentations about what AWG does and how it does it.
Lt. Col. Ed Lee, commander of Able Squadron, discussed some of the unit's current operations (such as in Afghanistan and Iraq, where it maintains a presence year-round, he said), and Baker Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Rich Thewes explained how AWG provides technical expertise and experience to commanders and soldiers on the ground.
Casey noted that the Army needs to learn to think differently and transform how it trains. "We count on you to push the envelope," he told AWG Commander Col. Robert Shaw, Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Devens and other unit members gathered in the briefing room.
Casey also received briefings about the unit's selection and training process and had an opportunity to see one of AWG's success stories - the Fast Obscurant Grenade - at work.
The device was developed a few years ago as a way to evade sniper fire by releasing a thick plume of white smoke, which effectively creates concealment so Soldiers can escape safely. In conjunction with other organizations, members of the AWG helped develop the FOG and integrate it on the battlefield within about six months, Shaw said.
Casey then walked to the unit's Resource Operation Center, where Soldiers, family and friends were gathered for an awards ceremony. Casey pinned on Master Sgt. Michael Carreker's Combat Action Badge and Sgt. Maj. Sean Bradley's Bronze Star Medal, and presented Defense of Freedom Medals (the civilian equivalent to the Purple Heart) to AWG operational specialist contractors Raymond Brooks, Ronald Hinson and Danny Smith.
Later, he addressed the soldiers, contractors and staff of the AWG. "I've been remiss in taking so long to get up here and see what you are doing," he said. "I knew you were doing great things ... what you are doing is exactly what we need to do."
AWG "continuously identifies and assesses capability gaps and introduces new technologies to the battlefield to counter asymmetric threats," Cicotte said. "It configures itself for the next battlefield now, so that we as an Army are better equipped to mitigate future threats."
"It was great to hear the Chief of Staff of the Army expecting AWG to be at the forefront of Army transformation," Devens said. "And charge our unit with enhancing the combat effectiveness of our forces preparing for and engaging in asymmetric threats around the world."
A key element of the Army's institutional transformation is the rapid development and procurement of capabilities, Casey added. "When you are a Soldier deployed and have a need for something ... you want it on that tour right now. [AWG has helped give] us that capability."
Casey ended his morning at the AWG by paying tribute to the unit's Soldiers, thanking them for their versatility and flexibility in moving things forward. "You are cutting edge, and that's exactly what we need."
Casey's next stop during his day at Fort Meade was the Freedom Inn dining facility, where he took a break for lunch with Shaw and Devens along with Installation Commander Col. Daniel L. Thomas, First Army Division East Commander Maj. Gen. Mick Bednarek and others.
Next on Casey's agenda Thursday was a visit to First Army Division East headquarters in Pershing Hall. While there, Casey first met privately with Bednarek in his office, then the two generals entered the Bradley conference room for a briefing and update about the unit. Several Division East leaders, including Chief of Staff Col. Mark Fields and Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Rush, were also on hand.
First Army Division East has more than 6,000 Soldiers with a footprint in 27 states east of the Mississippi River. Its mission is to mobilize, train and validate reserve-component units and provide training to joint, combined and active units.
"Last year, Division East trained about 60,000 Soldiers for duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo," Bednarek said.
Bednarek also highlighted aspects of Division East's current operations, including an evolution and projection of Reserve mobilization, training and deployments; the success of the unit's 56th Stryker Brigade out of Pennsylvania; the command initiative to hire wounded warriors; family support through Family Readiness Groups; and tapping into subject-matter experts, such as those at the Asymmetric Warfare Group.
"Training 60,000 Soldiers a year is about as noble a venture as you can have," Casey said.
While at Division East, Casey also recognized three of the unit's NCOs for their actions. Sgt. 1st Class Lawrence Veihl, who served as a casualty assistance officer last summer, received Casey's commander's coin, and Sgt. 1st Class Erik Ramos and Sgt. 1st Class Edward Pelotte received Army Achievement Medals for their work at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., last year.
As his helicopter arrived on McGlachlin Parade Field to take him back to the Pentagon, Casey took a few moments to speak briefly about 2009 as the Year of the NCO.
"As I've looked across the Army in the last couple of years," Casey said, "it has been clear to me that it is our non-commissioned officers who are providing the glue that is holding this force together."
Casey's goals for the year are to recognize what NCOs do for the Army and the country; to inform the American people about what a national asset the NCO corps is; and to enhance what the Army is doing for NCOs.