Afghan environment drives training adjustments in Europe
March 30, 2012
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany (March 30, 2012) -- Troops from 10 nations have been participating in a unique mission rehearsal exercise, or MRE, this month for the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team to prep the unit and its multi-national partners for deployment to Afghanistan.
During the 173rd's MRE at Hohenfels Training Area, changes implemented by the Joint Multinational Readiness Center:
-- allowed the brigade to increase its rotational free play in the replicated operational environment,
-- introduced the Army's state-of-the-art solution for sustainment of combat outposts and forward operating bases,
-- and reinforced the tenets of Unified Land Operations.
The 173rd's predeployment training involved more than 5,500 personnel, including units from partnering nations such as Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. The scenario allowed the 173rd ABCT to train alongside its multinational partners from Jordan and the Czech Republic, who are also scheduled to deploy as part of the coalition in Afghanistan.
"We immersed them into their operational environment for the entire rotation," said Maj. Todd L. Poindexter, the JMRC's counter-insurgency rotational planner. "Companies and platoons reported events up to battalion and brigade-level starting on 'day-one.' What we saw is that they had a better understanding of the environment, and applied it to their targeting process to make sound operational decisions."
The changes allowed the unit to effectively devise staff processes that could be used in Afghanistan, because they understood the operating environment better, said Poindexter.
Another change to the training was the addition of specialty training on newly fielded energy-saving systems, the Advanced Medium Mobile Electric Power Source, or AAMPS, a replacement generator for the Tactical Quiet Generator, which is a hybrid system and can be attached to solar panels.
As operations in Afghanistan continue to draw down, officials said deploying units like the 173rd ABCT must make critical decisions on everything from tactical movements to sustainment, which is why the Army's Rapid Equipping Force, known as REF, provided specialty training. This was provided through the Energy to the Edge, or E2E program, which supports small tactical units operating at remote locations with suites of energy harvesting, power management and distribution systems.
The AAMPS have a longer shelf life and should increase energy efficiency by more than 20 percent, REF officials said.
"We started to get questions and requirements from commanders deployed to Afghanistan," said Col. Peter A. Newell, director of the REF. "They were looking for help with sustainment problems. They were located at COPs (combat outposts) and FOBs (forward operating bases) that were at the tactical edge of the fight."
Small COPs and FOBs may be more geographically isolated from headquarters, making resupply mission more difficult, he said.
Trainers say Soldiers should see the correlation between their actions, for not only the abstract themes associated with the counter-insurgency missions, but for those critical resupply needs and conservation of power.
"The least efficient way to train a Soldier is to train him when he is in theater," said Newell. "The 173rd allowed us to catch someone in the right point of the timeline. It was the first opportunity to actually train a unit at home station, look at the equipment during their CTC, or combat training center rotation, and actually take it into theater and put it to use."
"Introducing the training in Europe and at the JMRC was easy because everything is centralized and under the Joint Multinational Training Command," Newell said.
The JMTC is unique as Europe's training command. It's centrally based among European partners and those of Asia and Africa, and as the U.S. Army's only overseas training command, it provides training and training support for U.S. and multinational forces supporting the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
The March 2012 MRE was the final home-station training event for the 173rd ABCT before its deployment; however, the unit has trained for more than a year, using live, virtual and constructive capabilities offered at the JMTC.
"Sometimes you think you develop a way to improve governance or security. You think certain actions are going to create desired outcomes, but it doesn't always work that way," said Lt. Col. Robert E. Young, chief of Operations Division at the JMTC's Joint Multinational Simulations Center, known as the JMSC, which provides virtual and constructive training support during exercises similar to the 173rd's MRE. "It can be frustrating."
A new training tool available at the JMSC provides a method to train commanders and staffs on the complexities of stability operations in a counterinsurgency environment and reinforces the combat skills needed for deployment and those trained at the HTA.
"UrbanSim allows commanders and staffs to understand the complexities associated with developing and implementing a campaign plan," said Young. "This desktop simulation is designed to expose leaders to the challenges found in the current operational environment early in the unit's training cycle, while replicating some of those complexities."
For example, on March 15, the 173rd ABCT assumed control of the operational environment at the Hohenfels Training Area from JMRC observers, controllers and trainers, replicating a relief in place that is standard procedure in Afghanistan.
At the same time, real-world reporters toured the mock-Afghan town. There were no signs of combat. The town was quiet. A squad of Soldiers walked into town for a peaceful meeting with government officials.
"Things could have been different," said Maj. William J. Griffin, public affairs officer at JMRC to the media. "The unit chose to use diplomacy first, if they had come in knocking the doors down the town may have turned against them."
Griffin said the training is designed to show the unit there are consequences for every action. The day prior the 173rd ABCT had negotiated a school project that would allow the local population to give their children a proper education.
"The one thing we did different for this rotation was that actions they took on day one had affects on day five," said Poindexter. "All their actions had consequences whether positive or negative."