The headquarters and staff of 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, along with the headquarters and staff of its six battalions, participated in the Warfighter course at the Battle Command Training Center in February. in preparation for the brigade’s upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
The Battle Command Training Program, or Warfighter course, offered at the BCTC is a full spectrum exercise that uses simulated operations as a training tool for division, brigade and battalion level battle staff in preparation for a unit’s Joint Readiness Training Center exercise and deployment.
“The concept is to create a crawl, walk, run system with internal preparation and practice exercises as the crawl phase, this exercise as the walk phase and JRTC as the run phase,” said Fitzpatrick.
The JRTC exercise is what we tried to replicate here in the BCTP, said Fitzpatrick. The only difference is that the BCTP missions and operations are virtually simulated, while the JRTC operations actually have the Soldiers out in the field carrying out the air-assaults or doing the patrols.
This is the first rotation that the brigades have cycled through. Until this point, this kind of exercise was only offered to division headquarters leveled units or higher.
Force Command and the 101st Airborne Division staff met and set the dates for each of the brigades to go through the BCTP exercise. The 4th BCT staff then began a long series of meetings with the BCTP staff preparing for the exercise.
On Feb. 10, the 4th BCT headquarters and its six battalion headquarters began to put up the large tent systems that would serve as the Tactical Operations Centers for each of the headquarters elements during the exercise. The tents were set up behind the BCTC building within the gated fence.
“The noncommissioned officers and Soldiers had the six battalion and the brigade TOC set up, networked with an internal server system, and running on its own in three days,” said Fitzpatrick. “And that’s despite the harsh weather and snow.”
The headquarters staff and officers attended Warfighter Focus classes from Feb. 17 – 21. These classes were geared specifically to the mission of that office, such as military intelligence, fires support and communications.
The brigade officially began the exercise on Feb. 22, and started shift rotations to keep the TOCs manned 24-hours a day while continuing operations and support. The next four days, the support sections held full support of the brigade simulating their functions when the brigade would deploy.
The brigade was responsible for planning operations, commanding and controlling virtual troops and air assets, gather and process intelligence and collect feedback from the battalion TOCs.
“The intent was to practice our standard operating procedures so that we could revise or tweak aspects of our functions in order to create the most efficient procedures and increase our capabilities for JRTC and deployment,” said Maj. Darman Place, 4th BCT executive officer. “We conducted virtual operations starting with planning and targeting and following all the way through command and control to review and planning again.”
The exercise allowed the battle staff to rehearse the orders process and their military decision making process while testing and refining their battle staff procedures. This let the staff practice procedures without having Soldiers in the field. It also gave the sections and staff the time to practice these procedures using the same electronic systems they will use when they deploy.
“The exercise let us conduct live, virtual operations using all the staff systems and functioning with feedback from our battalions,” said Place. “Each of the battalions were conducting their own virtual operations based on the brigade’s targeting plans. They then provided their own feedback to us which exactly replicates the information flow downrange.”
The benefit of running through the BCTP exercise was not only practice, it provided guidance and mentoring by the BCTP staff. Each section of the brigade and battalions worked with at least one mentor called an OT. The observer/trainer interacted, guided and tested the function and knowledge of the sections during all aspects of the operations.
“We gained an understanding of our capabilities as a brigade,” said Place. “We are high functioning and mission efficient, even with eventual staff rotations, we will be able to maintain that because of the procedures and SOPs we’ve put into place.”
The brigade completed the exercise on Feb. 25 and began the after action review process. An AAR is conducted after any training exercise or event to discuss strengths, weaknesses and get the opinions of the participating Soldiers or units.
“Any unit is only as good as it’s TOC, and the brigade did a really amazing job,” said Fitzpatrick. “The NCOs and young Soldiers were really the backbone to the exercise. They kept their offices and the TOC running smoothly and efficiently so that the battle staff could meet frequently, holding working groups, targeting meetings and really get into the operational