By Patrick BuffettAugust 15, 2013
FORT LEE, Va. (Aug. 15, 2013) -- Many Team Lee members refer to the Combined Arms Support Command as the Army's "sustainment think tank."
It's a big-picture acknowledgment of the command's ability to analyze, develop and implement the right blends of training, resources, procedural guidelines and doctrine to meet the logistical needs of the future Army.
A wide assortment of offices and organizations contribute to the sustainment center's mission. Particularly noteworthy is the current work performed by CASCOM's Sustainment Battle Lab. Its staff, along with expert advisors from the three pillars of the sustainment community -- Ordnance, Quartermaster and Transportation -- are often asked to "go to war" and apply proposed logistical concepts to see how they work.
The FY13 Army Phase III Simulation Exercise that concluded Aug. 2 was the battle lab's biggest success story to date, according to Maj. Joseph Chretien, the Models and Simulations officer for the lab. More than 800 military and civilian role-players, evaluators and computer engineers from 12 installations across the U.S. participated in the SIMEX. The event was organized by the Mission Command Battle Lab at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Its results will not only shape the future of Army sustainment, but also the overall "Army of 2020" initiative itself.
"Actually, experiment is a better description of the event," Chretien said. "Our goal was not to validate future force development concepts or attempt to identify capability flaws. We applied specific C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence) concepts, or learning demands as we call them, and carefully recorded the data so it can be studied afterward."
Other key participants in the exercise included the Maneuver, Fires, Aviation, Signal, Intelligence and Maneuver Support Centers of Excellence at forts Benning (Ga.), Sill (Okla.), Rucker (Ala.), Gordon (Ga.), Huachuca (Ariz.), and Fort Leonard Wood (Mo.), respectively. The Space and Missile Defense Center, Colorado Springs, Colo., the Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., and the Army Capabilities Integration Center at Fort Eustis also participated.
The Sustainment Battle Lab has never played such a major role in a nationwide simulation experiment, Chretien said. Two years ago, its participation would have been limited to a handful of experts sitting in a command center elsewhere and providing occasional input. Today, a "collaborative simulation environment" allows logistical experts to deliver support and analysis from Fort Lee, and that input is more valued than ever as war-fighting units realize the importance of logistics and its consideration when preparing for the challenges of future operations.
"I think this exercise truly reflected that change in mentality," said Clark Swindell, a Models and Simulations contractor for the battle lab. "We had 20 role-players and simulation inter-actors pulling busy seven-hour shifts throughout the event. It shows that (sustainment is) now a major topic … that this piece has to be correct if (America's armed forces) want to keep winning the fight."
The battle lab team also is proud of its role in the 8-month planning process that led up to the actual two-week SIMEX. Through a series of planning conferences and telephonic reviews, they developed solutions to computer software and communication issues that ultimately contributed to the success of the overall exercise. The team also helped develop a scenario that included real-world challenges like unfavorable weather and terrain, lack of infrastructure and unexpected events like vehicle breakdowns and local civilians asking for water.
"All of that work is ultimately reflected in the day-to-day exercise activity," Chretien said. "There has to be a lot of interaction (the role players used email, chat rooms, radio, telephone and C2 devices) to give the exercise evaluators the data they need to validate, or invalidate, the key concepts that were included in the scenario. I think we definitely met that requirement."
The results of the SIMEX will be presented to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond Odierno and other senior leaders and component commanders. Without a doubt, they will be looking at major factors like available manpower, maneuverability, complications that hinder the completion of a mission and, perhaps, additional uses for "think-tanks" like CASCOM's Sustainment Battle Lab.
"Hopefully, we established a standard for future simulation exercises," Swindell said. "This was a crowning achievement for the Sustainment Center of Excellence and the Sustainment Battle Lab. Knowing we played an important part in a strategic, high-visibility exercise that was unlike others in the past is reason to be proud of this accomplishment."