'Wagonmasters' hone skills during exercise

By Staff Sgt. Rob Strain
15th Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs

FORT HOOD, Texas — Members of the headquarters, 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), spent June 15 through 25 in a virtual Iraq, providing support to Multi-National Division – North.

During the two-week mission rehearsal exercise, the brigade’s staff was tested on how well they reacted to given scenarios, each one simulating an event that could happen when the brigade deploys to Iraq in the coming months.

According to Col. Larry Phelps, the brigade’s commander, the exercise was an opportunity for the staff to look really hard at the area the brigade will be operating in during the deployment.

The brigade is scheduled for deployment to northern Iraq in the next few months, and the mission will be different than previous rotations, Phelps said.

“Every time you go back, it’s different – even if you go to the same place,” Phelps said.

Even with the new location, the brigade will have the advantage of working for the same higher headquarters it works for at Fort Hood – the 13th SC(E), Phelps added.

“We already understand the tactics, techniques and procedures of our headquarters, “ he said.

During the exercise, the brigade also had assistance and guidance from members of the 16th Sustainment Brigade, the brigade 15th SB will replace later this year.

“[The 16th SB] were critical to our understanding of that new area,” Phelps said.

For Capt. Josh Southworth, an Erie, Pa., native and one of the brigade’s battle captains, the exercise was an opportunity to identify what processes needed work before deployment.

“Communication is key,” Southworth said.

He explained that during the exercise, the battle captain must communicate in multiple directions at once – to higher and lower headquarters, other brigades, as well as internally to the rest of the staff.

For Southworth, the biggest challenge was working with some of the staff sections he may not often interact with.

“I’m a lot more prepared than I was,” Southworth said, but added that there are still some things that need a little refinement.

But the exercise wasn’t the only thing going on for the 15th SB.

At the same time, the brigade was still providing sustainment support to the units on Fort Hood, planning Freedom Fest and preparing for Provider Shift, the transfer of many of its subordinate companies to the 4th Sustainment Brigade in July, Phelps said.

Freedom Fest, Fort Hood’s annual Independence Day celebration, was coordinated and executed by the 15th for the second year in a row, Phelps said.

For Phelps, events such as Freedom Fest act as a training opportunity for the brigade’s staff to hone their skills in communication, command and control, and staff coordination.

After Freedom Fest and Provider Shift, the brigade will take some time to focus on its Soldiers and their Families before beginning the deployment.

“The officers and noncommissioned officers have already shown they are up to the task,” Phelps said. “We’re ready to go.”


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Capt. John Balman, the 15th Sustainment Brigade's surgeon, and Maj. Frank Cruz, the brigade's logistics officer, conduct operations in the brigade's operations center June 24 as a part of their mission rehearsal exercise. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Rob Strain, 15th Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs)

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Col. Larry Phelps, the 15th Sustainment Brigade commander, meets with two Iraqi role players during a key leader engagement as a part of the brigade's mission rehearsal exercise June 24. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Rob Strain, 15th Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs)