Exercise tests Army War College students to think, act under pressure
One of the activities for U.S. Army War College students during the Strategic Crisis Exercise are Congressional VTCs. SDME is the capstone exercise for U.S. Army War College students. Photo by Scott Finger.

CARLISLE, Pa. (TRADOC News Service, Mar. 19, 2008) -- Unless you were watching the Strategic News Network, you may have missed a few world-changing events last week. There was a tense showdown in the Middle East, multiple freedom of navigation issues, a homeland terror attack and a natural disaster all in the span of six days.

Of course, it was 2021, and each of those scenarios and more were all part of the Strategic Decision Making Exercise, held from March 5 to 12 in the Center for Strategic Leadership at Carlisle Barracks.

The exercise, or SDME as it is commonly referred to, serves as the capstone exercise for U.S. Army War College students. SDME is a six-day interactive strategic level political-military exercise based in 2021, which gives students the opportunity to integrate and apply the knowledge they've acquired during the academic year to a "real-life" situation.

"We are asking the students to take the knowledge they arrived with, the knowledge they acquired during the first eight months of the Army War College and now apply it and make decisions focused at the strategic level,"explained Doug Campbell, CSL director. "

According to Campbell, planning for the exercise starts at the beginning of each school year.

"Initial planning begins with the receipt of student and faculty comments on this year's SDME," he said. "The second key factor is the receipt of next year's International Fellow student roster so we can determine IF expertise available to support the exercise. Detailed planning begins in September as we begin to develop scenario material."

The process of developing each scenario for the exercise isn't a simple one either.

"Scenario development takes considerable time and effort. We begin with an assessment of learning objectives to be achieved, identify potential areas of the world which meet the criteria of possible, plausible and important enough to the U.S. and its allies that a scenario would pass the 'so what test,'" said Campbell. "Following that assessment we develop a story outline, which lays out basic goals, objectives and flow of the scenario. After scenarios have been developed then all the scenarios must be integrated so that we understand their interaction and load factors and the impact on learning objectives."

This year's initiative was to create increased learning opportunities for IFs.

"The most significant element for this year was the decision to fully integrate IFs into combatant command cells. This was coupled with the creation of IF "White Cells" which made the IFs in those cells part of the exercise control structure," said Campbell. He went on to say that this helps provide the control organization with much more flexibility in responding to student needs and requirements.

Those IFs not in the white cell were designated as either "Exchange Officers" -- international officers acting as a US officer in an exchange program with their nations, or "Senior Military Representative" -- international officers who are provided by their nations as a national representative to a combatant commander once their country has joined with the US in a coalition effort, according to Campbell.

The exercise is designed to give the students a wide range of experiences.

"The most beneficial parts of the exercise are when we place students in difficult role playing situations," said Campbell. "Frequently that is when they interface with outside participants, such as Congressional Hearings -- during which they testify before members of Congress or Congressional staffers playing Congressman, where they have to engage the media, in either a briefing or in a stand-up question period, where they have to brief and answer questions from Distinguished Visitor's who role play a special assistant to the President."

During the exercise War College students also perform many of the duties and tasks that they will face once they graduate.

"They are also required to conduct VTC's with Combatant Commander Staffs and perform bilateral negotiations with International Fellows role playing foreign government officials," said Campbell. "The most taxing element is the requirement to absorb information and make recommendations or decisions under time pressure."

SDME has been very beneficial and a great learning experience according to one of the students.

"I thought the SNN broadcasts were truly first class," said Hershel Holiday, a member of Seminar 4. I only wish that more people had access to the congressional hearings and the media engagements."

The exercise also brings together more than 600 personnel from the War College and subject matter experts from outside the school to serve as controllers, observer controllers, or exercise facilitators. Personnel participating in the exercise come from numerous government organizations, including the Department of State, Joint Staff, FEMA, CENTCOM, FBI, and the CIA. Each year more than 50 distinguished visitors participate as role-players in the exercise; most as leaders from the military, diplomatic, interagency, business, and education communities.

"The students participate in video teleconferences with members of Congress, who role-play as members of the House Armed Services Committee while the students testify. Each year there are ten to twelve serving members of Congress who participate by VTC from Washington," said Campbell.

Another important part of the exercise involves the students interacting with various national and international news media outlets. During press conferences and interviews, controllers act as reporters from different national and international news organizations. The sound bites from these media events are then incorporated into television news broadcasts televised in Collins Hall each day. The filming of the interviews and the actual television broadcasts are produced by Reserve Soldiers from the 209th Broadcast Detachment. They were also augmented with Soldiers from two other reserve units.

This year's exercise was deemed a success, according to Campbell.

"I think the exercise did a good job in achieving its learning objectives. The entire staff and faculty engaged in the exercise evaluate how well we are achieving our educational objectives throughout each day, with specific meetings held at the end of every day to conduct a formal assessment," he said. "I think the general evaluation is that the students did a very good job in achieving the learning objectives established for the exercise."

The exercise started in 1995 as the Strategic Crisis Exercise and continues to evolve each year according to Campbell.

"The exercise changes every year. I would anticipate another evolution next year as we try to decide what is correct to prepare USAWC students for their new environment."

Page last updated Mon March 17th, 2008 at 14:45