By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 4, 2010 - As his staff wraps up the final mission rehearsal exercise before taking command of Afghanistan's Regional Command East this summer, the 101st Airborne Division commander is enjoying a new-found luxury: the ability to focus his entire training effort on a single combat theater.
Army Maj. Gen. John Campbell, whose headquarters will take on the mission it passed to the 82nd Airborne Division in June, no longer has to divide his attention between combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
All four of his brigade combat teams and his aviation brigade are deploying to or slated to deploy to Afghanistan, beginning with the 3rd BCT, which cased its colors in late January and is expected to be fully deployed by the month's end. The 1st BCT, which just wrapped up its training rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., will deploy next, followed by the 2nd BCT.
And, in a decision announced earlier this week, the 101st's 4th BCT will deploy to Afghanistan this summer, expected to operate within the Regional Command East region under Campbell's command.
This dynamic gives Campbell a level of "campaign continuity" he said is proving invaluable as he prepares to take on a mission now guided by a new strategy and with a new command structure overseeing its implementation.
As Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, maintains the strategic-level watch, Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez is overseeing day-to-day operations as commander of the new ISAF Joint Command.
With all Campbell's forces headed to Afghanistan, he said, all eyes are now trained solely on that fight.
"The division focus on one [area of responsibility] is just absolutely critical," he said.
"We are totally focused on Afghanistan," he said of his command staff. "And all our brigades are focused on Afghanistan. So our training and our resources and energy go toward that [mission]."
So as his soldiers sharpen their capabilities at the Joint Readiness Training Center -- and with some getting training in Pashto, Dari and other Afghan languages -- Campbell and his command group are wrapping up a two-week mission rehearsal exercise sponsored by U.S. Joint Forces Command.
Dubbed Unified Endeavor, the computer-driven exercise prepares combined and joint task force commanders and their staffs to operate in complex environments.
Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Layfield, commander of Joint Forces Command's Joint Warfighting Center in Suffolk, Va., said his staff created the most realistic training environment possible to ensure Campbell and his team are ready for the upcoming mission.
"One of our learned keys to success in creating a training environment that is real for the audience is to make sure it is current and relevant," he said.
Joint Forces Command officials brought together the myriad dynamics Campbell and his Combined Joint Task Force 101 staff will face in Afghanistan – with the blend of military and civilian capabilities provided by the coalition, as well as Afghan officials and national security forces.
Afghan army commanders, as well as military leaders from French and Polish military units that the task force will work with in Afghanistan, traveled to Fort Campbell, Ky., to participate in the exercise.
"In today's complex battlefield, we do not fight alone, and our training reflects that," Layfield said. "We rely upon and integrate with our multinational, interagency and nongovernmental partners in all that we do, ... and they are all present in this exercise this week." Meanwhile, the 101st leaders applied joint tactics, techniques and procedures as they worked through training scenarios based on real-world ones.
"We are giving them every challenge we can," Layfield said. "We are throwing things at this outfit so they can be the best they will be able to be when they hit the ground running."
The training challenges ranged from dealing with an insurgency that operates in high-population areas to employing combined action involving U.S. forces and Afghan units in counterinsurgency operations, to infrastructure gaps to narcotics and corruption issues.
Population-centric operations, a keystone of the new Afghan policy, are woven into every aspect of the training. Minimizing civilian casualties always has been important to U.S. operations, Layfield said, but it's become even more so since the new policy took effect. That, in turn, has had a big impact on training.
"It has caused us to scrub every single training venue, every training vignette we put on a training audience, to make sure we are giving them the opportunity to be challenged with that sort of guidance from their new commander, General McChrystal," Layfield said. "[It] has clearly refocused us on what we want to present to the training audience" so they deliver exactly what McChrystal wants.
With the rehearsal slated to wrap up tomorrow, Layfield declared the 101st ready for its mission in Afghanistan.
"The 101st Airborne Air Assault is ready, and I want to say that in no uncertain terms," he said.
Campbell said he's taking a lot away from the training. Most important, he said, are the relationships he's had an opportunity to build, and that will prove critical in Afghanistan. Ultimately, he said, it comes down to two driving imperatives: to save soldiers' lives, and to succeed in the mission.
"This is a critical year for Afghanistan," he said, citing President Barack Obama's as well as McChrystal's call for demonstrable progress within the next 12 to 18 months. "With exercises like this, it will help move us toward that quicker."