Michigan’s Fort Custer offers invaluable resources for unit training

U.S. Army geospatial engineer and analyst, Sgt. Bruce Middleton, with the 308th Civil Affairs Brigade, U.S. Army Reserve, examines newly printed maps used to support the Civil Information Management Team (CIM) during the unit’s validation exercise (VALEX) conducted at Fort Custer, Augusta, Mich., on March 16, 2021.

Michigan National Guard

Story by Master Sgt. David Eichaker

AUGUSTA, Mich.— The Michigan National Guard’s Fort Custer Training Center (FCTC) has over a 100-year history and continues to provide invaluable resources for not only units across the National Guard, but also other federal, state and local entities.

“In addition to numerous Army National Guard units, the Air National Guard, Army Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve and Navy Reserve also train at Ft Custer,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark McNeill, garrison commander, FCTC, Michigan Army National Guard. “We also have outside agencies such as local police, the Michigan State Police, FBI, and Michigan DNR come here to train on our ranges. The local communities are also incredibly supportive and have a great relationship with Fort Custer.”

Fort Custer Training Center continues to be updated. A new weapons cleaning facility was completed last year and a new 80 bed barracks is currently under construction. Future plans include a company operations facility and improvements to the main entry control point. The fort’s location is one of the draws for units to train there.

“Fort Custer is conveniently located near our home base and offers excellent resources here,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joe Freer, 308th Civil Affairs Brigade, U.S. Army Reserves, currently acting as the unit’s lead observer-coach-trainer (OCT). “Fort Custer is a reasonable distance from our brigade headquarters in Homewood, Illinois, and makes it an ideal place to train.”

Fort Custer sits on more than 7,600 acres and is equipped to support various types of training for units. From 12 small arms ranges, training areas for bivouac, vehicle recovery, field exercises and driver’s training to modern classroom facilities, Fort Custer can deliver.

“The Fort Custer Education Center houses the Regional Training Institute (RTI),” said McNeill. “The education center hosts classes for the noncommissioned officer education system, military occupational skills qualification training and the officer candidate school.”

The RTI is equipped with multiple classrooms and a large auditorium to host larger units. It was recently used by the Army Reserves in preparation for their upcoming deployment.

“This week we completed a validation exercise for the B Company, 415th Civil Affairs Battalion from Kalamazoo who is preparing to deploy overseas,” said U.S. Army Col. Caroline Pogge, civil affairs planning team leader, 308th Civil Affairs Brigade, U.S. Army Reserves based in Homewood, Illinois. “The Brigade planning team and civil information management (CIM) were also evaluated to ensure we have the best practices in place and to evaluate our expertise as we also prepare to deploy.”

“We [Company and Brigade teams] essentially did a simulation of the types of things we might encounter downrange, while supporting Operation Atlantic Resolve, that gives us the opportunity to try out our processes,” she said.

“We are making sure we have the right civil affairs assets in terms of both compositions of teams as well as the right level of a team,” said Pogge. “Our role as the civil affairs planning team and civil information management team is to take the strategic perspective to support U.S. Army Europe-Africa (USEURAF) and understand how civil affairs can best support the USEURAF’s lines of effort.”

“We are attempting to predict the future on where best civil affair assets should be across the region to ensure we’re projecting civil affairs forces in the right places, including where we’re working today,” she said.

OCTs have a specific task to ensure deploying units are certified in their core tasks.

“The observer-coach-trainer team is responsible for making sure the deploying Soldiers are trained on their civil affairs tasks,” said Freer. “This confirms they know exactly how to perform their mission when they get downrange.”

“My team of observer-controllers evaluate the deploying Soldiers as they’re going through the exercise making sure they’re executing their key collective tasks correctly and up to standards,” he said.

The Michigan National Guard is also supporting the Army Reserves in the COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

“We are so grateful the National Guard was able to provide us with COVID-19 vaccines. We were definitely struggling with the ability to get vaccinated prior to our deployment,” said Pogge. “Not even a quarter of the group would have been COVID-19 vaccinated prior to traveling overseas if the Guard didn’t come to our rescue.”

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