Northern Strike 20’s Initial Planning Underway in Northern Michigan

GRAYLING, MI, UNITED STATES
11.06.2019
Story by Capt. Joe Legros
Michigan National Guard  

GRAYLING, Mich. – With over 6,000 participants from 10 countries and 22 states, Northern Strike 2019 was the Department of Defense’s largest joint, reserve-component exercise of the year. This event is hosted annually at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, as well as over the skies of northern Michigan and Lake Huron.

From November 4-8, 2019, more than 200 personnel will convene at Camp Grayling, Mich., for Northern Strike 20’s initial planning conference (IPC). The participants represent the Michigan National Guard, as well as both active and reserve components of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force – along with coalition partners from Great Britain, Lithuania and Latvia.

“With over 500 frequencies used in last year’s exercise, it’s important to solidify our signals plan,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Donald Jenkins, Northern Strike’s Signal Planner. “The IPC puts together workgroups which enable us to get on the same page with our communication systems.”

Northern Strike is a Joint National Training Center accredited exercise, sponsored by the National Guard Bureau, to provide accessible, readiness-building opportunities for units from all branches of military service to achieve or sustain proficiency in conducting mission command, air, sea, and ground maneuver integration, including the synchronization of fires in a joint, multinational, decisive action environment.

With so many participants from across the country and world, as well as between different branches of the military, Northern Strike’s combined-arms training venue sets it apart as one of the best opportunities for warfighting readiness and interoperability.

The exercise is modeled after a realistic combat scenario.

Sitting at the front of a capacity crowd of Northern Strike planners, a three-Soldier contingent from Lithuania eagerly listened to descriptions of the planned scenario for next year: a simulated war between the fictional countries of Gorgas and Donovia.

“We are grateful to have you here,” said Col. Bart Verbanic, the exercise officer in charge, as he shook a Lithuanian soldier’s hand. “Planning for an event of this magnitude requires the assistance of all participants, including our multinational partners.”

Troops from Latvia have participated in several Northern Strike exercises over the years, sending two Soldiers to participate in this year’s IPC. For Northern Strike 20, elements from their Special Forces will join the exercise.

Celebrating over 25 years together, Latvia is partnered with the Michigan National Guard under the U.S. National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program (SPP).

Maj. Nigel Pratt, quarter master, and his executive officer, Matt Bard, of 4th Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment based in York, England, also participated in the IPC.

“We are excited to be part of this planning conference,” said Pratt. “We will bring some infantrymen to the exercise next year and we’re here to make the most of their training by planning a challenging, yet rewarding exercise at Northern Strike 20.”

Following an initial welcome address by Verbanic, IPC participants were briefed on the event scenario.
They received instruction based on last year’s after action review, touching on elements of safety, available medical resources and other items meant to maximize the integration of aviation, ground and sea assets into their planning.

Camp Grayling’s 147,000 acres of training space, more than 23,000 square miles of Lake Huron and Lake Margrethe, as well as Alpena CRTC’s massive airspace training box – the largest of its kind east of the Mississippi River – makes an ideal venue for this type of joint maneuver training.

After a short break for lunch, participants separated into workgroups focused on logistics, signal, medical and operations planning. The workgroup purpose is to create a master scenario event list which identifies, synchronizes and scripts tactical events into an overarching combat scenario.

Verbanic added that a separate air component-focused IPC will occur via teleconference on November 13, 2019. One of the innovations the air component included last year was the introduction of the MQ-9 Reaper into the exercise.

Last year’s MQ-9 flight was the first time the remotely-piloted MQ-9 Reaper took off and landed in Michigan airspace. It also marked the first time an MQ-9 Launch and Recovery Element participated in a major National Guard-sponsored readiness exercise in the U.S.

“By the end of this conference, participants will create many of the necessary outputs for a successful exercise,” said Verbanic. “Those include a communications plan, a concept of sustainment, training aids and an initial medical support plan.”

Exercise planners believe the total number of participants in 2020 will likely be similar to last year’s event, with several states and multinational forces converging on Michigan soil. Whether units specialize in ground, air or sea operations, they will have the opportunity to gain essential combat readiness over a two-week period next July.

Projected dates for Northern Strike 20 are July 18 – Aug. 1, 2020.

Along with the air component teleconference IPC next week, Northern Strike 20 planners will convene again for additional conferences in the coming months.

“I’ve been working on Northern Strike in some capacity since 2013,” added Verbanic. “Every year, we want the next one to be the best exercise yet. That will take a significant amount of time and planning, which is why we’re here.”

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