633rd becomes first National Guard unit to operate a theater gateway

Sunday, April 01, 2012

For the 633rd Theater Gateway, an Army National Guard unit training to deploy overseas, the human resources annual training exercise Silver Scimitar 2012 at Fort Devens, Mass., represents important firsts.

Not only will this be the first guard unit to operate a theater gateway for combat operations, it is the first to use the exercise as validation for its mobilization training.

As a Theater Gateway, the 633rd is one of three Army National Guard units with the mission of processing troops into and out of theater.

Until now, active duty and Army Reserve units have shared the task. The 633rd will be the first unit from the National Guard to take the mission.

To make their training as real and relevant as possible, soldiers from the 9th Theater Gateway, an active duty unit based at Fort Campbell, Ky., are instructing the Illinois National Guard soldiers and serving as subject-matter experts.

The 9th is currently deployed to Kuwait operating the theater gateway.

"They’re bringing their real-world experiences to us and then teaching us everything that’s going on in theater right now, making sure we understand every element of the operation before we get there," Lt. Col. Natalie Northern, 633rd commander, said.

Active Army units have used Silver Scimitar as an official validation exercise in the past, Sgt. Maj. Wood Saunders, 9th Theater Gateway, said.

This year, exercise directors will request that First U.S. Army validate the exercise for participating U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard units, Saunders said.

Northern explained Army National Guard units can spend up to a month or more in mobilization training before deploying. With most of that time focused on soldier skills, she said, little remains to prepare for the specific mission in theater.

During Silver Scimitar, soldiers practice their mission, and get advice and help from the units they replace.

The validation by First Army gets these soldiers to theater more quickly –while the valuable training is fresh.

After an intensive first week of classroom training, 633rd soldiers set up a simulated theater gateway during the second week. Observer controllers bombard them with events and scenarios that simulate what they’ll face on the job.

They process inbound and outbound soldiers, coordinate their movements and provide accountability. To create the experience of working at the highest echelon, they interact with all other units at the exercise.

Sgt. 1st Class Tracey Horner has been with the 633rd for two years, and appreciates the experience she’s gaining at Silver Scimitar.

"When you go through the first week it comes out fast and furious. You don’t really see how it works together until you actually see the moving parts. Hands on, it’s a little bit different," Horner said.

Horner explained that working so closely with active duty counterparts is an added benefit, especially as the National Guard shares more missions with other components.

"If I went around right now, I couldn’t tell you who were active duty units; who were guard units," she said."

(Editor’s note: This story if based on an article by Sgt. David Turner.)