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Dragon Week forges tradition, teamwork at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Dragon Week forges tradition, teamwork at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

A Soldier from 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) participates in a stress shoot on June 29 during “Dragon Week” at Range 103, Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington. Dragon Week consisted of airborne operations, maritime operations, patrol lanes, a stress shoot and medical evaluations to test readiness at the battalion level. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Wes Conroy)

By Rindi White

For some soldiers, basic training isn’t enough to develop a team rhythm. For the soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), a yearly “Dragon Week” helps the group work together and stay battle-ready. After a short hiatus, the 60-year tradition was back on track at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington this summer.

“Dragon Week is a 3rd Battalion tradition that we have been unable to execute over the past few years because of our operational tempo,” said 3rd Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Jason Clarke. “We wanted to get back to our roots and instill the sense of tradition that the 1st SFG (A) has been great at for the past 60 years. Dragon Week stresses our soldiers both physically and mentally as they navigate their way through multiple tactical and technical challenges.”

Army Special Operations Forces are changing what battle-readiness looks like in the Army. Special Operations Forces tend to be small groups, with a high demand for services, but they have an extremely high mission deployment rate, according to Special Forces Command (Airborne) (https://www.army.mil/article/190290/). The challenges make it difficult to maintain a sustained, ready force, especially when teams operate in different phases of readiness.

While many Army units prepare for overseas missions by performing an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise to ensure that soldiers’ paperwork is in order and everyone knows what will happen at deployment, the 1st SFG (A) group steps their readiness up a notch or two.

During the exercise, 3rd Battalion personnel woke to an early-morning phone call with instructions to bring paperwork and equipment right away for an unknown mission. After the battalion’s human resources section checked readiness packets, soldiers prepared for an airborne operation with a follow-on mission.

After landing safely, teams representing every company in the battalion were given the first of 10 points to navigate to, with the requirement to stay off roads and navigate only by map and compass. At each waypoint they had to complete physical and mental tasks prior to receiving their next waypoint. Tasks ranged from assembling and disassembling heavy weapons to constructing a rope bridge and crossing an obstacle to assembling a 300-piece Mickey Mouse puzzle in a set amount of time.

“We wanted to make it challenging, but not to the point where it detracted from the espirit de corps and team building,” said Capt. Mike Dutile, the battalion logistics officer and officer in charge of planning the event.

“If it was too bad, we would have lost the focus,” he said.

The training also held real-world implications.

“Everything our teams wee asked to do during Dragon Week was 100 percent applicable toward our operations, whether a training event in Asia or a combat operation in Afghanistan or Syria,” Clarke said.

Staff Sgt. Katie Whelan, a preventive medicine noncommissioned officer assigned to the battalion, supported the medical lane. Teams were required to self-administer tourniquets, inject IVs and carry a teammate on a litter for a time.

“A lot of the teams had soldiers who weren’t trained as medics but could complete the tasks,” she said. “It was pretty impressive to see.”

At night, the teams established patrolled bases and waited until morning before continuing with small-unit tactics and patrolling. Teams also participated in maritime operations at Solo Point, including paddling a boat 1,000 meters to recover a soldier and returning to shore. From there, they moved to a weapons range to finish with a stress shoot.

Clarke said every staff member played an important part in the overall success of Dragon Week, from running the command post, coordinating communications between all units, manning the opposition force, conducting intelligence collection and acting as role-players to add degrees of realism to the exercise.

“The amount of support to conduct Dragon Week is almost as high as the operators going through the exercise,” Clarke said. “Our support soldiers are just as important as our operators to ensure mission success.”

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