Exercise Lion prepares partners

Published 9:56 pm Wednesday, October 12, 2016

By Sgt. 1st Class Alexandra Hays

Special to the News-Herald

In August 2014, senior planners in the Department of Defense met in Washington D.C., for Intergovernmental Tabletop Exercise ’14, an exercise aimed at preventing mass atrocities.

Email newsletter signup

Then, the Ebola crisis broke out.

In the midst of that exercise and just before Lion Focus ’14, rehearsal became reality: U.S. Army Africa was put on alert to assist in Operation United Assistance in Liberia.

The real-world implications of conducting multicomponent, joint, multinational and inter-agency rehearsals for crises are clear, officials say: The time to start learning about other agencies’ capabilities is not when a crisis is already under way.

Exercise Lion Focus, a multicomponent, joint exercise run by U.S. Army Africa provides a chance for organizations to come together and plan responses to plausible crises on the African continent.

“The goal of this exercise is to create an environment based on real-world operations on the African continent that U.S. Army Africa will likely encounter in the future,” said Navy Capt. Gregory L. Anderson, a Joint Staff training officer based in Suffolk.

This year’s Lion Focus scenario — which was only the second iteration of the exercise in its current state — was based on crisis response to an African nation, and eventual turnover to another Department of Defense agency.

Military and inter-agency partners attended about a week of academic instruction on the problem set and capabilities available, and then analyzed, planned and responded to the scenario, all in a realistic way.

Lion Focus ’16 involved participants from all components — active duty, Reserve, and National Guard — and all services, as well as international partners from Italy and British soldiers from the 102 Logistic Brigade out of Grantham, England.

“We try to keep the exercise as realistic as possible,” said Dave Crotchett, lead exercise planner for U.S. Army Africa, based in Vicenza, Italy.

Crotchett explained that Lion Focus prepares U.S. Army Africa for the follow-on exercise, Judicious Response, which is United States Africa Command’s validating exercise.

“What we learned in Lion Focus [this year] was invaluable,” Crotchett continued.

He explained that this year there were about 175 participants augmenting U.S. Army Africa, including about 30 members from the 79th Sustainment Command (Support).

The 79th SSC, the second-largest command in the Army Reserve, headquartered in Los Alamitos, Calif., took part in the exercise because it is being regionally aligned as a sustainment command with U.S. Army Africa.

Soldiers from the 79th SSC who participated in the exercise performed duties just as they would in a deployed or crisis situation.

“We’re enhancing the readiness of our units through these exercises,” said Maj. Gen. Mark W. Palzer, commanding general of the 79th SSC, who visited his troops in Vicenza Sept. 16-19.

Palzer said this exercise is the first of many endeavors for the 79th SSC working with U.S. Army Africa and coalition partners.

“The aim of these exercises is to get us to work together so that we each understand our role in the mission of supporting USARAF,” he said.

“Exercises like these demonstrate our competencies to the active component, including asking what capability is needed and providing access to the human and logistical resources within our ranks.”

Key to the 79th SSC’s involvement in the exercise was its partnership with the 102d Logistic Brigade. The British army unit, which is a blend of active duty and reserve troops, provided six soldiers to augment the 79th SSC.

British army Brig. Gen. David Eastman, commanding general of the 102 Logistic Brigade, also visited his soldiers participating in the exercise Sept. 20.

“We are really pleased that we’ve got this partnership with the 79th [SSC],” said Eastman during his visit. “We would like to take advantage of every opportunity to work together. We’re responsible for supporting the United Kingdom’s operations in Africa in the same way the 79th is, so it makes sense for us to work together … to eventually, potentially carry out combined operations together.”

During his visit, Eastman received a shift-change briefing and addressed both the 79th and his British soldiers. He explained that the British army’s reserve is undergoing a transition to becoming more operational, just like the U.S. Army Reserve is.

“I think we can learn an awful lot of lessons from you on how to get more out of our reserve capability,” Eastman said. “In big-picture terms, this is about us learning from you, us working together with the 79th [SSC] to develop that relationship and for the people themselves to develop their staff capability. Any partnership is based on relationships, so for me, this is a win-win.”

The 102 Logistic Brigade is Eastman’s first time in command of reserve soldiers, and he said he is pleased with their performance.

“I’m hugely impressed with reserve soldiers. They deliver significant effects, and you can almost never tell them apart from their regular counterparts when they’re deployed. I have a huge respect for the commitment necessary to balance that trinity of family, civilian life, and work, and the military life. We just don’t have that problem in the regular force. They seem to balance it and deliver with a huge amount of effect, and I just find that deeply impressive.”

Eastman said that just about every operation the British army now conducts is in a multinational environment. Exercising for real-life missions in a multinational environment makes sense, he said.

“As we develop our relationship with the 79th and as we start working more to develop what we are doing in Africa, it makes sense that we should get involved in this exercise as much as possible,” Eastman said.

“Just anything that takes that relationship forward and allows us to operate together has got to be good, from my perspective. I think we can learn from you, and hopefully there are some things you can learn from us, equally.”

Palzer echoed Eastman’s sentiments on the multinational partnership.

“The 102 Logistic Brigade brings a lot of connections that we didn’t previously have,” he said. “Our international partners will have access to in-country capabilities, or in-country training missions. Having that access may grant us entrée to missions that are both useful to us and things that they may need.”