U.S. Army Year in Review: Army augments readiness through strategy, exercise

Christopher Hurd/Army News Service

WASHINGTON — Year in and year out, readiness is at the forefront of what the Army does. Throughout 2022, the service worked on its ability to “fight tonight,” while being prepared for the battlefield of tomorrow.

With the shifting focus from the Middle East to near-peer competition, the Army activated the 11th Airborne Division in Alaska. It also strengthened strategic partnerships during DEFENDER-Europe 22, outlined its climate strategy and launched the updated Army Combat Fitness Test.

Best Squad

Members of U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s 75th Ranger Regiment took home the top prize in the inaugural weeklong Best Squad competition. Top soldiers and noncommissioned officers from around the world competed.

Teams were tested over several different fitness and combat-related events, including a 12-mile march, squad battle drills and individual warrior tasks. The top four teams then traveled to Washington, D.C., where they were evaluated on their knowledge and professionalism in front of Army leaders.

• Best Squad of the Year: U.S. Army Special Operations Command — Staff Sgt. Devon Simpson, Sgt. Jonathan Warren, Spc. Nathan Wallen, Spc. Jake Reichman, and Spc. Coy Anderson

• Noncommissioned Officer of the Year: Sgt. Garrett Paulson

• Soldier of the Year: Spc. Samuel Alavarez

DEFENDER-Europe 22

The multinational, joint exercise DEFENDER-Europe 22 took place across nine European countries throughout June. The large-scale exercise focused on building operational readiness and interoperability with NATO allies over a wide area of operations.

Soldiers participated in multiple live fire exercises, ruck marches and river crossings using key ground and maritime routes. The exercise was geared toward military crisis response such as the potential invasion of a NATO partner.

Thousands of U.S. and multi-national service members from 11 partner nations took part in the exercise. The event demonstrated the Army’s ability to serve as a strategic security partner while maintaining normal operations across Europe and Africa.

Arctic Strategy

In June, the Army activated the 11th Airborne Division during ceremonies at Fort Wainwright and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, uniting almost 12,000 soldiers in Alaska under one flag.

The activation comes on the heels of the Army’s commitment to its earlier announced Arctic Strategy, which outlined its plans to establish military dominance in the region.

The division will be headquartered at JBER, and members will wear the unit’s distinctive blue patch with a red and white emblem with angel wings.

Soldiers in the division will be equipped with cold-weather gear and serve as the Army’s leading experts for Arctic military operations.

The activation gives the Army a strategically-located unit that can quickly deploy to any region, especially those in cold weather climates.

Combating Climate Change

The Army released its first Climate Strategy in February, as the service adapts to extreme weather challenges.

The strategy outlines three lines of effort: enhancing installation resilience and sustainability, increasing the Army’s acquisition and logistics operational capability while strengthening climate resistance, and training soldiers to operate in a climate-altered world.

Army leaders hope that in turn these efforts will boost soldier and installation readiness and effectively build a multi-domain, sustainable land force.

The service released the follow-on Climate Change Implementation Plan later in the year.

Army Combat Fitness Test Kickoff

The Army Combat Fitness Test went live Oct. 1 for Regular Army and Active Guard Reserve soldiers. The ACFT includes six events: the three-repetition maximum deadlift, standing power throw, hand-release push-ups, plank, two-mile run, and the sprint, drag and carry. The plank exercise is a new edition replacing the leg-tuck assessment.

The directive, which has 12 parts, is a culmination of soldier feedback and updates to existing policies. Before, the policies were spread across 20 Army regulations. This directive brings all of those policies and updates under one document.

The Army also announced new age-and-gender-performance scoring scales that are based off of ACFT diagnostic test scores, historical data from the Army Physical Fitness Test and scoring from other services.

Regular Army and Active Guard Reserve soldiers have until April 2023 to complete the test. The scores will be used for retention, graduation of initial military training, professional military education and evaluations.

Army Reserve and Army National Guard soldiers will begin testing in April 2023 with a deadline of April 2024 for ACFT completion.

The service will continue to assess performance data including scores, pass rates, injuries and environmental considerations.

U.S. Army photos

U.S. Army Year in Review: Army improves quality of soldier care, services

Staff Sgt. Michael Reinsch/Army News Service

WASHINGTON — Soldiers, family members and civilians are the Army’s most valuable resource. This year, to meet the needs of an evolving Army, policies have been reexamined and programs changed to improve quality of life for the force.

Army Competition Awards

An important part of maintaining quality of life in the Army is fostering the esprit de corps within the service. In 2022, the Army recognized the dedication of soldiers for their contributions to the Army as well as standing out among their peers during competitions — including the inaugural Best Squad Competition.

• U.S. Army Best Squad: U.S. Army Special Operations Command — Staff Sgt. Devon Simpson; Sgt. Jonathan Warren; Spc. Coy Anderson; Spc. Jake Reichman; Spc. Nathan Wallen

• Best Squad Competition NCO of the Year: Sgt. Garret Paulson, U.S. Army Medical Command

• Best Squad Competition Soldier of the Year: Spc. Samuel Alavarez, U.S. Army Forces Command

• Drill Sergeant of the Year: Staff Sgt. Krista Osborne, 3rd Chemical Brigade

• Regular Army Recruiting NCO of the Year: Staff Sgt. Noel Daker, U.S. Army 3rd Recruiting Brigade

• Reserve Recruiting NCO of the Year: Sgt. 1st Class Giovanna Avila, U.S. Army 2nd Recruiting Brigade

For each of the categories, soldiers or their squads must demonstrate key tasks or conditions laid out in the award’s description.

For the Best Squad Competition for NCO and Soldier of the Year, the squad and soldiers must prove their dedication to the Army values, embody the squad ethos and represent the force of the future.

The Drill Sergeant of the Year competitors have to show their mastery of all tasks and drills from Basic Combat Training: to be the best in training soldiers on top of other physical and mental demands.

The top Army recruiters are awarded the Recruiter of the Year award, which tests their knowledge and professionalism. The Career Counselor of the Year must complete an Army Fitness Test, 50-question exam, a 750-word essay and board attendances.

This year the Army improvements focused on quality of life for the current force and strengthening its ability to recruit soldiers who can meet the Army standards. The culmination of initiatives is just part of the larger plan to transition toward the Army of 2030.

Future Soldier Preparatory Course

As the Army makes changes to policies and programs to enhance the quality of life within the Army, it also must look outward to enhance its recruiting efforts and support those who wish to serve.

This year, the Army created a new program designed to assist potential recruits to meet enlistment standards.

The Future Soldier Preparatory Course program, which had its pilot debut in August at Fort Jackson, S.C., provides an educational and training opportunity to help overcome barriers to entry for people wanting to serve in the Army.

The course has already trained almost 2,000 potential recruits, who have moved on to basic training.

The course was made in response to the rise of young recruits who are not able to meet the Army enlistment standards. Only 23 percent of young Americans meet the Army’s requirements.

The program gives two paths: academic and fitness instruction. The fitness instruction helps the potential recruit meet the body composition standard, and the academic instruction provides educational assistance for the potential recruit to improve their score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test.

There has already been an average of a 17-point increase in recruits’ scores on these tests after Future Soldier Preparatory Course instruction.

Part of the program requires that the potential recruits take the Occupational Physical Assessment Test to qualify for the physical demand level required for an Army Military Occupational Specialty before their participation in the preparatory course.

Tattoo Restrictions Policy Update

Maintaining the all-volunteer force is one of the highest concerns to the Army, and part of the need comes from getting new soldiers into the ranks. One of the barriers to entry into the Army was the previous tattoo policy.

To cut down time needed for a potential soldier to enlist, Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth updated a directive that allows recruits and soldiers to receive tattoos on their hands, the back of their ears and the back of their necks.

Soldiers are now permitted to have one tattoo on each hand and behind each ear if the tattoos are no more than one inch in length. Soldiers can also have a tattoo on the back of their neck that is no more than two inches long. On top of those revisions, soldiers may get tattoos between their fingers so long as they’re not seen when their fingers are closed.

Before the release of the updated policy, prospective recruits had to obtain a waiver that would delay entry to service, and in some cases were even denied, both of which negatively impact the recruiting process.

There have been no other changes to the policy; tattoos that were prohibited or needed a waiver before — save for the reasons above — will remain that way.

This change to the policy was implemented due to the growing popularity of tattoos. According to Training and Doctrine Command, 41 percent of adults ages 18 to 34 have at least one or more tattoos.

Army Directive on Parenthood, Pregnancy, Postpartum

For those currently in the ranks, updates to older directives to improve quality of life were necessary to ensure soldiers and their families were taken care of during and after pregnancy.

The Army’s Parenthood, Pregnancy and Postpartum Directive made changes and program improvements that affect more than 400,000 parents within the force. The directive expands postpartum operational and training deferments, extends exemptions for physical fitness testing, and the Army Body Composition Program standardizes convalescent leave for pregnancy loss, allows select professional military education attendance while pregnant, creates stabilization while undergoing fertility treatment, and increases family care plan flexibility.

EFMP Online

For the more than 46,000 soldiers and 55,000 family members in the force, the Exceptional Family Member Program is a crucial tool for managing the care of a spouse or child with special needs.

But the previous version of the enrollment process took weeks to get through and required soldiers to fill out and retain an array of printed documents.

To improve upon the process, EFMP went to using a web platform as opposed to the antiquated pen-and-paper method. Current and future clients can now go online to fill out their profiles and make updates.

The new method is designed to modernize enrollment, which will make assignment coordination and support easier and ensure the safe and secure upload of documents with sensitive information.

PCS Improvements

The permanent change of station process is a familiar part in the lives of soldiers and their families, moving to a new duty station once every few years. These moves can be very difficult to manage.

On top of these stresses, the lingering logistical impacts of COVID-19 still makes moves difficult to this day.

To combat these difficulties, the U.S. Transportation Command, U.S. Army and the Army Sustainment Command are making improvements to the PCS process.

Adjustments to domestic and international transit times were made to provide more predictability and expectation management for soldiers and their families.

In 2020, ASC supplied tablets to quality assurance inspectors to assist them in the field — reaching more customers and quickly providing them with resources, handouts and report findings without requiring a return to their office.

ACS also laid out the improvements and implementations it has made to the PCS process.

They entities moved toward a more digitalized method of record keeping, refined the choice of move day, facilitated better communication with moving companies for soldiers and their families, simplified claims by creating a standardized form, created a notification process if seals on containers are broken, refined overall communication with the service provider, allowed more time to file claims, increased reimbursement to 100 percent of do-it-yourself moves and extended reimbursement up to seven days of per diem and incidentals when a moving company fails to pick up or deliver as agreed.

Additionally, one more change is the introduction of SmartVoucher, which reduces travel payments to less than two days.

U.S. Army photos

U.S. Army Year in Review: Soldiers take next steps, preparing for future fight

Joe Lacdan/Army News Service

WASHINGTON — In 2022 the Army announced that the Next Generation Squad Weapon Program will become soldiers’ primary firearms, awarded a defense contract for new Mobile Protected Firepower vehicles and outlined its designs to build the Army of 2030.

The Army of 2030 is a plan to modernize and upgrade Army forces while preventing near-peer adversaries from outpacing the service on the battlefield.

The branch also took the next step in its annual series of experiments, Project Convergence, and produced its Organic Industrial Base Modernization Implementation Plan to upgrade its facilities and workforce across its organic industrial base. The industrial base is comprised of 23 depots, arsenals and ammunition plants, which play provide crucial materiel and sustainment support to the Joint Force.

The Army announced in December that it had awarded the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft contract to Texas-based manufacturer Bell Textron.

Next Generation Squad Weapon

For the first time in 65 years, soldiers will field a new standard service weapon. In the spring of 2022 the Army announced that the Next Generation Squad Weapon, consisting of the XM5 rifle and XM250 light machine gun, will replace the M4 carbine, M16 rifle and the M249 light machine gun.

The lightweight weapons will make soldiers significantly more lethal, with improvements in accuracy and range and the capability of mitigating recoil, improved barrel performance and integrated muzzle sounds and flash reduction.

To upgrade overall performance, the new weapons system will move from the 5.56 mm ammunition of the M16 and M4 to the 6.8 mm series of ammunition.

The service awarded a 10-year contract to New Hampshire-based weapons manufacturer Sig Sauer, which will produce and deliver the new weapons system and its ammunition.

Mobile Protected Firepower Program

Soon Mobile Protected Firepower vehicles will also help soldiers move at a faster pace and will not restrict movement and flexibility when driving on off-road terrain. The MPF vehicles will help the service’s light-maneuver forces achieve overmatch against adversaries.

The Army announced plans to field up to 96 MPF vehicles that will give infantry brigades the ability to identify threat systems earlier and at greater distances and improve overall survivability.

Feedback from soldiers who tested the vehicles directly affected the design. The Army awarded the $1.14 billion contract to Michigan-based company General Dynamics Land Systems.

Army of 2030

In October, the Army unveiled the “Army of 2030,” its plan to fully prepare for the future battlefield and to outpace near-peer adversaries.

To fully ready its forces to meet the challenge of evolving threats, the Army outlined six lines of effort.

First, the service must acquire sensors to see at a wider range and at greater distances than enemies. Second, the Army will develop the capability to rapidly deploy lethal, low-signature combat forces from a wide range of locations to overwhelm the opposition.

Next, soldiers will deliver accurate, long-range precision missiles as part of the joint, all-domain force to strike deep targets. Army leaders said the Army will protect itself from air, missile and drone attacks. The branch must also secure its data and shield communication with coalition forces and other U.S. military branches from enemy cyber and electronic attacks.

And finally, soldiers will learn to sustain the fight over contested land and over time.

The Army will also shift how it organizes its forces, moving to larger formations capable of working with other military branches. Division and corps commanders will view the battlefield from a wider perspective while divisions and corps will develop weapons to attack enemies across multiple domains.

Project Convergence

In October and November, the Army expanded the scope, complexity and range of Project Convergence, its annual series of experiments to include participation among partner nations and other military branches.

The service began the event in 2020 to rapidly integrate joint, all-domain service capabilities and to achieve overmatch through greater speed, range and decision dominance.

The Army experimented with its capabilities at long distances across the Pacific, breaking up the series into two phases at two California locations: Camp Pendleton and Fort Irwin.

More than 4,000 service members, civilians and contractors took part in the experiments testing about 300 new technologies. The experiments took place in maritime environments across the Indo-Pacific at locations in Japan, the Philippines, Australia and Hawaii.

In addition to all five military branches taking part in the experiments, Australian and British troops participated and representatives from the Canadian and New Zealand militaries acted as observers.

Organic Industrial Base Modernization Implementation Plan

The Army outlined how it will modernize and upgrade its facilities processes through implementation of its Organic Industrial Base Modernization Implementation Plan.

Army Materiel Command and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Doug Bush will lead the 15-year, $16 billion plan in seven lines of effort that will augment the service’s industrial base.

The plan includes measures to update and modernize facilities, invest in tools and machinery, recruit and retain the best qualified work force and implement cybersecurity and protection.

The OIB modernization implementation plan will also improve production and manufacturing methods, participate in projects on health and safety and make energy use improvements while ensuring environmental safety compliance.

Future Long Range Assault Aircraft

The service took the next step in bringing the FLRAA capability to soldiers in fall 2022. FLRAA, which will have a hybrid design that combines characteristics of planes and helicopters, will eventually replace the UH-60 Black Hawk as the Army’s utility and tactical transport helicopter.

The Army announced it had awarded the $1.3 billion FLRAA contract to Bell Textron. The agreement will enable the service to continue with preliminary design development as well as the production and delivery of FLRAA virtual prototypes.

Maj. Gen. Walter Rugen, Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team director, said that the Army accelerated the development of the FLRAA capability by four years.

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