Atterbury training exercise to pit 2 armies, involve 3,500 troops

Two armies and their leaders will be pitted in a head-to-head battle when more than 3,500 soldiers come to Camp Atterbury next week.

The last time the U.S. Army fought in this type of battle was 2003, when troops surged out of Kuwait to Baghdad and flattened the Iraqi army. And that’s why troops need a refresher course in how to command a fast-paced battle along a broad front.

For more than a decade, military units have trained extensively on how to battle insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, fight in urban settings and watch out for dangers, such as roadside explosives.

But the Indianapolis-based 38th Division will conduct a Warfighter Exercise starting new week. Instead of fighting small cells of insurgents who hide and sporadically attack, Warfighter will simulate leading a battle against a peer enemy, whose military might compares to U.S. soldiers and equipment.

Generals and other high-ranking officers will work in command tents, gathering information about the enemy and reports from the field to make decisions on where to send troops or how to react to changes in the battle — similar to conflicts like World War II or Desert Storm.

“The decisions that those higher-level commanders make, everyone is getting evaluated as a whole, but really the eyes are on those top generals,” Camp Atterbury spokeswoman Capt. Jessica Cates said.

The exercise is the latest large training at Camp Atterbury, which is now focusing on hosting these types of bigger exercises instead of training troops to deploy overseas. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down, Camp Atterbury has shifted its role to providing new training and retraining for military units in Indiana and other parts of the nation. This year alone, Camp Atterbury hopes to host three more of these exercises.

It’s the second time the post has hosted a Warfighter Exercise, but it’s been a while. The last time was in 1989, and Gen. Colin Powell was one of the military leaders in town for the exercise, Cates said.

More than 3,500 soldiers from 22 units from the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Air National Guard, active duty Army and Canadian forces will participate in the exercise, which runs through Feb. 13. The training mission is designed to test how the top military leaders manage their troops and combat the enemy.

However, the battle will be totally virtual, meaning no soldiers will be out in the field acting out the troop movements and fighting, Cates said. Commanders will set up in tents and collect, review and act on information they receive about the battle, Cates said. Another group of soldiers will play out the enemy, making their moves, which will come in as reports to the commanders.

The soldiers will utilize the camp’s new north barracks complex, which opened in October and added 1,200 beds to the post. The new housing facilities and rail yard were built in order to increase the capacity of Camp Atterbury and allow it to host larger events.

Hosting at Atterbury saves the U.S. Army money, since the facility can accommodate 5,600 soldiers, Cates said.

“It’s really helped as a cost-saving measure to the Army. A lot of these folks from the Warfighters before didn’t have the barracks capacity, so a majority stayed at hotels outside of Fort Leavenworth (in Kansas),” Cates said.

Since 2013, when the military stopped using the post to train soldiers before they deployed overseas, Atterbury has focused on hosting large events and trainings, including the Indiana SWAT Challenge involving 13 police departments and the annual military emergency training exercise Vibrant Response.

Aside from recurring events and a couple of more Warfighter Exercises in 2015, Camp Atterbury also hopes to host a cyberwarfare training later this year, Cates said.

About the training

Here is a look at the upcoming Warfighter Exercise training at Camp Atterbury:

Who: More than 3,500 soldiers from multiple areas

When: Monday through Feb. 13

What: The training for commanders will simulate leading a battle against a peer enemy, rather than insurgents, which the military has trained to face for more than 10 years.

Where: Camp Atterbury. Soldiers will stay in the barracks that opened last year.