Today’s Army National Guard is an operational force, not just a strategic reserve like in the Cold War days. The Army has three high-tech training locations: the National Training Center (Fort Irwin, CA), Joint Readiness Training Center (Fort Polk, LA), and the Combat Maneuver Training Center (Grafenwöhr, GE).
Now the National Guard has XCTC—eXportable Combat Training Capabilty. The system uses global positioning system (GPS) and electronic data interface (EDI) backpacks, along with the military’s version of Laser Tag, known as MILES (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System). Computers tracking everyone on the training battlefield and video taken during training events combine to allow Soldiers and their leaders to see and discuss what went right and what can be improved—the after-action review (AAR).
Michigan Guardsmen slated to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan within the next year were selected to participate in XCTC training scenarios during Annual Training, the two-week active duty training all Guardsmen participate in each year. From the Detroit Free Press:
“We are learning a lot of stuff and expanding on what we were taught before,” said Lillian Hayes, 32, of Detroit, a and member of the 1225th CSSB who spent a year in Iraq and seven months in Bosnia. “We are learning different movement and techniques.”
While Michigan has prided itself on quality pre-deployment training for it’s citizen-Soldiers, XCTC took it up a notch. The video and computer-supported AARs were as good as the Army’s top training centers. More importantly, though, XCTC has Iraqi and Afghan nationals who work with troops to overcome cultural barriers. From the Freep:
“I’m giving them cultural exposure and letting them know what to expect,” said Najib, a cultural liaison officer for the National Guard who did not want to use his last name because he has family living in Afghanistan.
During each exercise, Najib advised soldiers on how to speak to and greet Afghan citizens. He also explained the difference between certain tribes and acted as a translator for one training scenario.
“It makes a difference because what I do here can save the life of a soldier and a civilian,” Najib said. “When there is a lack of sensitivity, it’s a chance you could be raising conflicts with civilians.”
We’ve been at war almost 8 years now. The Michigan Guard averages about 1,000 Soldiers deployed at any given time and I’ve been proud of every one of them. I’m also proud of the training we give them before they go.