The local community actively supported the training in several ways. Beyond the land use access, many community leaders participated as role players in key leader engagements. By having real community leaders participate, the ODA members gained additional experience by having a community leader convey notional problems (scenario) with the institutional knowledge of that office to encourage the ODA to think beyond their task and purpose of the mission. Helping community leaders with solving local problems leads to rapport building and ultimately accomplishing their mission. This added depth and variety.
Ridge Runner facilitates organic resources in the WVNG or from the community and using the unit's Mission Essential Task List as a base plate, combines the two to make a realistic scenario," said Command Sgt. Maj. Tom Edmonds, program manager for Ridge Runner.
WVNG Soldiers participated as role players in the exercise, acting as the indigenous force that Special Forces Soldiers had to train to become the resistance force. WVNG servicemembers were able to bring their civilian job skill sets to the exercise, reinforcing the scenario as more convincing and providing additional depth to their character development.
“It adds realism in an environment where a Special Forces team would be in a country training civilians to become a paramilitary force,” said Edmonds.
“We had real world rapport with our guerilla fighters,” Allard said about his team’s interaction with the WVNG role players. “The interaction between the two elements was great. In a UW setting, people have skills and connections they could bring to build the resistance capabilities. By working with them, we got them to go outside the box, be resourceful and see if it worked.”
The training exercise was beneficial for all elements. While the Special Forces company increased their skill sets at the individual, detachment, and company levels, the WVNG participants also had the opportunity to gain valuable training they might not otherwise receive, such as small unit tactics, survival, planning and conducting raids and ambushes, and close quarter combat training.
“When it’s servicemembers training servicemembers, it is beneficial, and it’s what makes Ridge Runner unique. Many other programs use contractors,” said Maj. Erik Sarson, Ridge Runner’s officer in charge.
Beyond the guerilla warfighters, the exercise was also supported by multiple WVNG elements – fixed wing and rotary aircraft, military police, engineers, transportation and medical. In total, more than 70 WVNG service members either participated or supported the exercise.
Ridge Runner staff also coordinated with local agencies such as the Preston County Sheriff’s Office and the W.Va. State Police. During one scenario, state police officers set up a simulated criminal checkpoint. The narcotics canine was utilized, giving the dog and its handler the chance to train. Detention cells were made available, and the Soldiers were separated and interviewed. Other emergency services such as the local fire department and ambulatory services supported the training.
What is unique to W.Va. is the closely stitched relationship between the military and the residents of the state. The WVNG’s positive response to frequent natural disasters in the state such as flooding, snow storms and the recent water crisis, residents are accustomed to seeing Guardsmen in their neighborhoods helping. For Ridge Runner, that means having a community that is enthusiastic and supportive of training, Edmonds said.
“A needed resource is always just a phone call away,” Sarson said.
Ridge Runner’s staff members pride themselves on working with visiting units to facilitate their training objectives into the most realistic environment possible. Most, if not all of the training will occur in or around local communities.
“Where other training programs are very structured, Ridge Runner is more like a lab. We offer a flexible environment where a unit can come in and try something creative,” Sarson said, referring to a unit’s approach on how to train for a difficult mission.
“One thing that makes training for unconventional warfare like this difficult is that so many elements have to come together. It is usually very challenging, but the Ridge Runner flexibility and the competency of the WVNG allowed this to come together in about four months. Our doctrinal knowledge has been significantly enhanced because of this training,” Lueckeman said. “We have developed a terrific relationship with the WVNG that we hope to be enduring in nature.”