503rd Military Police Battalion trains for deployment
Staff Sgt. Tonya Harrington of the 503rd MP Battalion interacts with an Afghan role player during the unit's recent Mission Readiness Exercise (MRX)held at the XVIII Corps Battle Command Training Center.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - At 9 a.m., the battalion commander and his staff sat through another partnership engagement with the Afghan uniformed police in Regional Command East. Nearly two hours later, a military police company's vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device, inflicting heavy casualties.

Throughout the day, valuable intelligence continued to feed both lethal and non-lethal targeting, the chaplain and command sergeant major were wrapped up planning a memorial service for one of the battalion's most loved Soldiers, and now the media is knocking on the door to interview the battalion commander.

Fortunately for the leaders and Soldiers of the 503rd Military Police Battalion, these events were not real. These were events from a master scenario event list injected by officers and noncommissioned officers of the 16th Military Police Brigade sitting in the XVIII Airborne Corps Battle Command Training Center on Fort Bragg.

The 16th MP Bde. recently completed its fourth mission rehearsal exercise, Feb. 13 through 17, validating the 503rd MP battalion staff and subordinate elements for deployment. With the exercise complete and preparation well underway, the 503rd MP Bn. is headed to Afghanistan to replace the Fort Stewart, Ga., based 385th MP Bn.

The majority of the 16th MP Bde. subordinate battalions are not located on Fort Bragg with the brigade headquarters.

The brigade has training and readiness authority over the 91st MP Bn. at Fort Drum, N.Y.; the 716th MP Bn. at Fort Campbell, Ky.; and the 385th MP Bn. at Fort Stewart. The 503rd MP Bn. at Fort Bragg is also the brigade's responsibility to validate prior to deployment.

An MRX is an invaluable opportunity for battalions and higher formations to validate leaders and staff in preparation for deployment. Although frequently used for stability and support operations, the MRX can be used to validate a staff to command and control any mission set.

"To me, the most important aspect of the exercise was you learned not only what you were doing well but what you identified that you need to continue to work on or develop," said Command Sgt. Maj. Billy Counts, 503rd MP Bn.

This MRX began with detailed, thorough planning and intense coordination with the BCTC and the battalion.

"It's very time consuming if you want to make it successful because there are so many moving parts and people that you have to synch into this exercise," said Capt. Nicole Griffith the brigade's training officer.

The 16th MP Bde. operations section began the planning and coordination process 90 days before each event. The planning began by understanding and developing the brigade commander's training guidance.

The 503rd MP Bn. commander, Lt. Col. Terry Nihart then developed his own training objectives for the exercise and his staff prepared goals for each of their sections.

Every section within the brigade staff contributed to the MSEL and developed a "script" to support the scenario that trained the battalions' leaders and staff. The MSEL served as the guide to meet the commander's training objectives, as well as the link to ensure follow up and closure to extremely complex events.

An event like an IED strike gets complicated very quickly when the reports are inaccurate, casualties are taken and equipment is destroyed. Staff sections are forced to come together and solve the problem.

Validating the commander's objective of ensuring his command's capabilities and their collective ability to work together cannot be completed without interwoven events throughout the MSEL.
The 16th MP Brigade identified three pillars needed to ensure a successful MRX:
-Integrating subject matter experts from a deployed unit, preferably the unit the battalion is replacing upon deployment, into the exercise.
-Using professional civilian and military role players, and
-Sending at least one member of the brigade staff on the pre-deployment site survey with the exercised battalion.

One of the subject matter experts for the recent exercise was Sgt. 1st Class Jerome Easter, the S-3 Plans noncommissioned officer in charge of the 385th MP Bn. Easter is currently on leave from his duties in Afghanistan.

"There were a lot of aspects and questions that needed to be answered and I was able to provide those answers and my professional opinion", said Easter.

The four-day exercise was managed by the exercise director, the Brigade S-3, and an exercise officer in charge, the brigade plans officer. These two officers were the conductors over an "orchestra" playing off of the same sheet of music -- the MSEL.

If the director and OIC are the conductors, the white cell was their orchestra. Comprised of Soldiers from each battalion, as well as brigade staff officers and NCOs, the white cell represented higher and lower echelon units to the exercised battalion.

The white cell also used professional, Afghan-American contractors and select Soldiers to facilitate role-play in certain MSEL events. The final, and perhaps most important, component of the white cell were the observer/trainers.

Unlike observer/controllers at the major training centers, the OT served as a trainer and mentor to help the exercised battalion's staff develop their processes.

Just like an after action review at a major training center, the brigade facilitated a dynamic and professional AAR to show the training battalion the areas in need of improvement. A mid-point AAR was also conducted on the morning of day two to evaluate where the exercised battalion stood and a final AAR to show the battalion how it finished.

The final AAR served as an opportunity for the exercised battalion to conduct self-reflection and identify its way forward.

The end state of the MRX was a more competent and capable battalion staff, refined battalion staff battle drills and standard operating procedures, and a confident battalion staff ready to assume the mission. The 503rd MP Bn. staff is now stronger and more prepared for their mission because of the brigade's focus on ensuring readiness.

"You cannot replace the training value that you get out of these exercises. You have actually got to take those learning points and AAR comments and apply them to continue to refine," said Counts.

Page last updated Thu February 23rd, 2012 at 15:11