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Friday, May 20, 2016

It is Day No. 6 of the 13-day crucible known as a Joint Readiness Training Center rotation. Your unit is tired and every element, from the staff working on the next battle update brief to the private guarding his unit’s perimeter, is stressed to the maximum. On edge, you wait for the next attack, whether by direct or indirect fire.

This is usually the time that the battalion’s top leaders—the S3 (operations and training officer), executive officer, commander, command sergeant major and operations sergeant major—ask themselves and the observer/controller trainers, “Did we do everything we needed to do to best prepare ourselves and our unit for this?”

Usually a curt “no” is the correct answer. One has to swallow a big lump of damaged pride, clear the mind and then look inside. The questions continue. What could we have done differently? Why can’t we talk to all our units? Why are we not using the standard operating procedures we validated back at home station? What leader development would have better prepared us and our soldiers for these events? Did we come into the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) ready to learn and get better as a unit?

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On the attack: soldiers of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La.
(Credit: U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Jared N. Gehmann)

Building a Home-Station Calendar
When the brigade S3 constructs the long-range training calendar, his or her staff may dissect it into quarters. Here, we will use a brigade combat team from the 82nd Airborne Division as an example. In building the fiscal year 2016 calendar, the brigade S3 constructed an annual training brief that was submitted to the brigade commander and then to the division commander. In this brief, the S3 highlighted the unit’s vision; the brigade campaign plan; the unit’s current mission-essential task list assessment; the long-range training calendar overview; a leader development overview; and the brigade’s road to Fort Polk, La., and the JRTC.

The team’s approach looks the same for most units getting ready for the JRTC. They identify the “way ahead” and then try to fit all their identified key events into the available space on the calendar. It is not a blank canvas; indeed, garrison events compete with training events. That competition is what makes the preparation stage of a JRTC rotation extremely hard.

The brigade combat team began by clearly identifying their objectives. These included equipment reset; preparation for outload support battalion operations; individual training to include Expert Infantryman Badge; paratrooper essential task list; and the “big 5” of airborne proficiency, physical fitness, medical, marksmanship and small-unit battle drills. The brigade also wanted to execute exercise evaluations and live-fire exercises up to the platoon level along with battalion Mission Command.

With all these objectives, the team’s end state was stated as follows: The platoons are live-fire certified and prepared to execute company-level collective training; battalion staffs are trained and prepared to conduct brigade combat team-level Mission Command training; and the brigade combat team has re-formed a team of fit, disciplined, adaptive paratroopers prepared for future collective training in the next cycle.

Applying Training
The end state prescribed everything needed to succeed. However, the problem most units face at the JRTC is actually applying their training to the decisive action training environment. It raises the question of whether the home station training was effective.

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Bradley Fighting Vehicles from the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at the JRTC.
(Credit: U.S. Army)

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82nd Airborne Division paratroopers at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La.
(Credit: U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Jared N. Gehmann)

Most units can execute team, squad, platoon and company-level training as discrete events. The JRTC, however, is a brigade collective training center. That means all those subunits must work as one to enable a battalion to successfully conduct operations. Unit home station training does not or cannot replicate what the units encounter here.

Take, for example, Mission Command and the unit’s command post.

Field Manual 6-0: Commander and Staff Organization Operations defines the command post as a unit headquarters where the commander and staff perform their activities. The headquarters design and robust communications give commanders a flexible Mission Command structure consisting of main and tactical command posts; and a command group for brigades, divisions and corps.

The manual also states that the functions of a command post include tasks such as maintaining running estimates; controlling and assessing operations; and coordinating with higher, lower and adjacent units. The command post also provides a facility for the commander to control operations, issue orders and conduct rehearsals.

Command Post Is Critical
A unit command post is one of the most crucial elements in executing successful operations at the JRTC. Successful units integrate command posts into their training plans at home station. As noted earlier, a command post is the location where commander and staff perform their activities. These activities revolve around planning operations and then executing those operations, all while planning for future operations simultaneous to running the current fight. This can be done only by mastering the operations process through the development of a synchronized battle rhythm and training on the military decisionmaking process.

Units sometimes lose sight of the importance of their command post in a garrison environment. I know I did as a battalion S3 and executive officer. Units should integrate command post capabilities into every training event. Use the external command post as much as possible because it will strengthen the staff in it and test the systems you use to run your organization. This is important because it builds a knowledge base within each staff section on assigned tasks and information that needs to be tracked in order to feed the battalion information requirements.

More often than not, a unit will report to the JRTC and establish a command post, only to experience issues with planning, executing and tracking because the command post is not functional with Mission Command structure. This is not to say it’s the first time the unit has established a command post. Usually, the unit has used theirs at home station and considered it functional. In truth, it was not organized in a way to maximize output.

So how is output maximized? It boils down to what the commander needs to make clear and deliberate decisions. The command post should be organized with that goal. Are the right personnel in the right positions to make the unit better? Have strengths and weaknesses been analyzed as they relate to personnel and systems? Have standard operating procedures been developed and validated? The S3 and executive officer must first ask all these questions as they develop their training plan for a JRTC rotation. The training they then devise must result in affirmative answers.

‘Workload Fratricide’
Once these questions are answered, the S3 and executive officer should clearly organize roles and responsibilities. In garrison, the roles of the S3 and executive officer are clearly defined and seldom overlap. In the decisive action training environment, however, S3s and executive officers often commit workload fratricide. They have a hard time defining their roles because the training involves operational situations where the workload is intermixed between a future operations cell and a current operations cell.

Field Manual 3-21.20: The Infantry Battalion states that the battalion executive officer’s primary duties are to exercise command in the absence of the commander, and to integrate and synchronize the staff’s activities to optimize control of battalion operations. The executive officer accomplishes this through supervising and overseeing the command post while ensuring the synchronization of information flowing into and through the battalion.

In comparison, the manual describes the S3 section as the commander’s primary staff for planning, coordinating, prioritizing and integrating all battalion operations. The S3 section runs the battalion main combat post, under the executive officer’s supervision. The S3 is generally the senior staff member of the tactical command post—commonly called the TAC—if the commander employs one.

The manual describes the operations section’s main duties as planning, preparing and producing battalion operations orders; controlling current operations; and coordinating critical support operations, as required, with the other staff sections.

Additionally, the operations section develops and synchronizes the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection plan. They also manage the battle rhythm of the TOC, or main combat post, to include orders production, battle tracking, operations updates and briefings, rehearsals, receipt of reposts, and reports to higher headquarters.

It’s About Attitude
Now that a prerotational training plan has been developed and staff has been configured to maximize the output required to succeed here, it is time to focus on probably the most important aspect of training at JRTC: attitude.

It does not matter whether yours is a National Guard, airborne, Ranger, special forces or Stryker unit. We see units that have trained relentlessly for this event, only to squander their opportunities within the first week because they did not have the right attitude upon their arrival. Units fail to realize that they are not coming to JRTC to “win.” To be quite honest, units will not defeat the opposition force. The cards are stacked against you whether you realize it or not.

So what does the right attitude look like? A unit reports to the JRTC with a learning approach to the rotation and a will to get better. Soldiers and leaders in the organization are open to candid feedback, and they focus on daily improvement.

These traits serve as the pillars of a successful unit. A unit must also be able to capture lessons learned to improve their standard operating procedures as well as their training management systems following the rotation. The climate of the organization must be one of a willingness to learn and improve combat readiness, not on defeating the opposing force.