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Col. Robert Radcliffe, V Corps chief of operations, left, discusses the progress of the corps’ ongoing exercise, Victory Start, with operations staff members, from right, Sgt. Nick Kucharski, Lt. Col. Anthony Krogh and Maj. Christopher Doneski, in the exercise’s tactical operations center at the Grafenwöhr Training Area, Germany, on Wednesday.
Col. Robert Radcliffe, V Corps chief of operations, left, discusses the progress of the corps’ ongoing exercise, Victory Start, with operations staff members, from right, Sgt. Nick Kucharski, Lt. Col. Anthony Krogh and Maj. Christopher Doneski, in the exercise’s tactical operations center at the Grafenwöhr Training Area, Germany, on Wednesday. (Kristopher Joseph / Courtesy of U.S. Army)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — The Army headquarters that led the blitzkrieg invasion of Iraq and the first year of occupation duties there, launched initial field maneuvers this week in preparation to return to the war zone.

“We are operating on the assumption that some or all of us will be going back into the fight,” Col. Sean MacFarland, head of operations for the Germany-based V Corps, told Stars and Stripes.

Exactly when that will be, he said, remains to be seen. Officials are remaining tight-lipped on specific deployment plans.

But with the Army outfitted with only three active corps — the nucleus for the top field command units in Iraq — MacFarland said it’s only a matter of time.

The Fort Hood, Texas-based III Corps replaced V Corps in February and XVIII Airborne Corps, from Fort Bragg, N.C., is preparing to relieve III Corps early next year.

If the cycle of yearlong deployments repeats itself, that would put V Corps on its way to Iraq in early 2006. Army leaders, however, have expressed hope of reducing Iraq tours to six months. That could mean a turnaround back to Iraq for V Corps as early as the summer of 2005.

Regardless, MacFarland said, the corps could be ready to deploy as early as April.

In the meantime, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Victory Start

Involving more than 3,000 troops, the corps began Victory Start on Monday.

The exercise is designed as the first major building block in the reconstitution of the corps’ war-fighting skills since top staff and main support units returned from Baghdad.

Although troops have been setting up for the war games for the past two weeks, the exercise itself runs through Monday, split about 200 miles apart on opposite sides of central Germany. To the west, about 750 troops will work from the 1st Armored Division headquarters in Wiesbaden and 2,400 troops operate from the Army’s main training range in Grafenwöhr, to the east.

The separation will allow commanders to replicate the vast distances units most work across in Iraq.

“We’re taking a crawl, walk, run approach to this, and Victory Start is the crawl-to-walk phase,” said MacFarland.

“We’ll fire up all of our equipment and give the staff some scenarios to work through,” he said.

With about one-third of the staff new to the corps since it returned from Iraq in February, “this gives everyone an opportunity to work together for the first time and establish our battle rhythm.”

Deployment focus

With Victory Start under its belt, the corps staff will shift focus from training to the real-world oversight of pushing Europe-based units deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq. That will include, for example, training assistance for the Southern European Task Force, which is slated to take over command duties in Afghanistan.

“Then we’ll shift back to training ourselves in March,” said MacFarland.

In mid-March, the corps will return to the field for Victory Focus, for the “run level” of the corps’ train-up.

The weeklong exercise will be conducted mostly at Grafenwöhr and be run by the Army’s Battle Command Training Program from Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The program’s staffs operate as a combination of evaluators and a free-thinking “opposing force” in simulations.

“We’ll be in good shape after Victory Focus,” said MacFarland. In terms of what comes next, however, “after that, it kind of gets a little murky, to be perfectly honest,” he added.

The corps has canceled its annual Victory Strike exercise in Poland.

Considered the pinnacle of the corps’ annual training plan, Victory Strike had been slated to run Aug. 15 to Sept. 15 next year.

“We really haven’t been able to shape that time frame very well, due to all the uncertainty,” said MacFarland.

Instead, whenever the corps does get its orders for deployment, the staff and support units will undergo a three-week Mission Rehearsal Exercise to certify the staff is good to go.

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