Every summer at Fort Knox Kentucky, over 8,000 Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Cadets, from Universities all over the country, assemble to conduct either Basic Camp (for 1st and 2nd year students) or Advanced Camp (for 3rd year students). In addition to all of these Cadets, nearly 5,000 cadre and support personnel arrive to support the training. From May to August, Fort Knox is home to the biggest training exercise the Army conducts. At the same time, the Army’s premier officer-producing school, the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, is welcoming a new class of incoming Cadets, training existing Cadets in Soldier skills, and hosting the international Sandhurst Competition. The 104th Division, with support from the 108th Training Command, is a critical component of ensuring the success of these unique missions.
The 104th Division provides Mission Command through Task Force Wolf for all 1,500 Army Reserve Soldiers assigned to support the Basic Camp and Advanced Camp missions, along with many Instructors for the training lanes and Drill Sergeants for the Basic Camp Cadets. The Timberwolves also provide instructors and staff to support all of the USMA missions. Other 104th Division Soldiers provide support throughout the year as Assistant Professors of Military Science, assigned to ROTC duty at individual universities in 45 of the 50 states.
Planning for these missions begins 18 months out, with the Yearly Training Brief (YTB) process. The 104th Division issues general mission guidance to the brigades, brigades issue guidance to the battalions. The battalions and brigades then develop their initial plans, encompassing the entirety of the training year. They have to allocate limited time and constrained resources to ensure Soldier individual readiness, unit collective readiness, and mission accomplishment. The culmination of this planning effort is the Yearly Training Brief and Mission Back Brief, conducted 21-22 February 2020. The location for this event was Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wa., home to the Headquarters of the 104th Division Timberwolves, Nightfighters. The weather was agreeable, unusually so for this time of year, with partly sunny skies and temperatures in the high-30s to mid-40s.
Receiving the briefing this year was the new Commander of the 108th Training Command, Maj. Gen. Juknelis, and the Commander of the 104th Division, Brig. Gen. Edwards, along with their Command Sergeants Major, CSM Priest and CSM Phipps. The briefings opened with an introductory presentation by BG Edwards, as he discussed the 104th Division’s proud combat history and our role in preparing for future threats. Educational presentations by Division special staff followed, providing the assembled Command Teams with the latest updates from the Inspector General, Suicide Prevention, Command Judge Advocate, and Equal Opportunity. Next up came the presentations by each of the Brigade and Battalion commanders, as they described the essential components of their FY21 proposals to their peers and leaders. They highlighted challenges, established readiness targets, and received Command concurrence with their plans.
The second day of the event opened with a team run, hosted by 1st Brigade, at the Chambers Bay Golf Course, host of the 2015 U.S. Open. A public walking trail surrounds the course, starting high on a bluff overlooking Puget Sound and going all the way down to a bridge that protrudes directly over the water. The hardy souls who braved the chilly temperatures (in the mid-30s) started off at a comfortable trot down the steep slope and finished about a mile later at the water, where the group conducted some hand-release pushups and flutter kicks. Finishing these, they ran back up the brutal hill; anyone who was cold at the start of the run was no longer. After a quick break, the team reassembled to focus on the FY20 Mission Back Briefs, as each commander again stood up to describe their plans for FY20. These briefings described in detail how the 104th Soldiers will ensure the smooth execution of the diverse mission set this summer.
In the 104th Division, Soldiers work hard and play hard. Following the briefings, Soldiers moved to a nearby aircraft hangar on Gray Army Airfield. There, Soldiers and Civilians from F Company, 2-135 General Support Aviation Battalion provided a Leader Development class on the unique missions that the CH47F-capable unit conducts in the Pacific Northwest, including aerial firefighting at the Yakima Training Center and Search and Rescue in Mount Rainier National Park. The training concluded with a demonstration flight that traced the Nisqually River and looped over Puget Sound, with views of the Narrows Bridge and the Port of Tacoma. This event was both educational and team building. There is nothing quite like a shared adventure to strengthen bonds and remind Soldiers of why they serve.
The YTB/MBB was an intense two days, but it was time well spent. Thanks to the work of these dedicated Leaders and their assigned Soldiers, the plans are in place to train the officers that will lead this Army into the future. Somewhere amongst the thousands of Cadets at the Basic and Advanced Camps and the United States Military Academy is a future 104th Division Commander, a future 108th Training Command Commander, a future Army Reserve Commander, even a future Chief of Staff of the Army. The 104th Division Soldiers will be there at the beginning of those careers and many others, shaping the leadership of the Army for the next generation.