FORT HOOD, Texas (March 25, 2016) -- In today's constantly changing and high-tech environment, the U.S. military must be vigilant, highly-trained and proficient to defeat emergent enemies. Soldiers with the 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th Military Intelligence Brigade conducted a Tactical Operations Center Exercise at Fort Hood's northern training areas, March 1-11, to test their systems in a series of combat-driven scenarios.
The 10-day exercise confirmed for the battalion and brigade command groups that the "Longhorn" battalion has strengths to sustain and weaknesses to improve in field operations. Additionally, the battalion utilized the training opportunity to lead marksmanship ranges to complement its overall intelligence training mission.
Maj. Christina Fanitzi, the acting Battalion Commander of the 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion, said the necessity of field training and drills is paramount as the Army faces a complex world.
"The battalion TOCEX was the 'crawl phase' of our three-iteration training endeavor," said Fanitzi. "It tests and proved our battalion's ability to conduct expeditionary operations."
Over 100 Soldiers from the 303rd MI Battalion are currently deployed to Afghanistan, providing intelligence support to U.S. and coalition forces. The 100+ Soldier task force is commanded by Lt. Col. Anthony Covert. While a majority of the battalion is still stationed at Fort Hood and Fort Gordon, Georgia, Fanitzi commands the Longhorn formation in the United States.
The "Longhorn" Soldiers conduct multi-disciplined intelligence operations in support of combatant commanders. The battalion's exercise offered opportunities to experiment and prove the battalion can deploy to an austere environment, conduct intelligence collection efforts, and self-sustain.
The majority of the TOCEX focused on Military Intelligence Situational Training Exercises (STX). The battalion's Multi-Function Platoons integrated well with analysts at the operations center, Fanitzi said. In many of the STX lanes, Soldiers focused on their equipment, including the Trojan and Prophet Enhanced systems. Both systems allow all-weather intelligence collection and dissemination capabilities.
Pfc. Daniel Rungo, an intelligence analyst with Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion, capitalized on his MI training during the week, with the first four days of the TOCEX geared toward Military Intelligence tasks and military tactical operations.
"We practiced briefing and targeting packets," said Rungo, who said the training was maximized to allow a better understanding of critical MI tasks.
In addition to training on various specialties of Military Intelligence, the battalion's exercise ensured its various support functions were tested.
Maj. Fanitzi said the battalion's logistics Soldiers, such as culinary specialists, mechanics, and vehicle drivers, also trained on their specialties in a field environment, which led to overall success for the battalion's exercise. Mechanics and vehicle drivers conducted field services and oil changes with over 40 convoys and over 200 Soldiers transported, traveled over 4,000 miles, and delivered 1,330 hot meals to troops over the 10-day period.
The battalion's Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment also ran daily training events and competitions that reinforced Soldiers' skills and built camaraderie. Sparking the competitive nature of Soldiers, the battalion hosted a unique competition to hone the Soldiers' technical capabilities.
"Day four's competition was tow-bars, with no refresher training," said Fanitzi. "All teams completed the tasks to standard. The fastest team, which was a three-woman team, employed the tow-bar (onto a tactical vehicle) in less than three minutes."
Spc. Tastacia Banks, a Paralegal who participated in the exercise with Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 303rd MI Battalion, said the training refocuses Soldiers on attention to detail. She continued by saying it is better to know these things now, than to be attempting to figure it out at a crucial time.
Throughout the 10-day exercise, the battalion's Soldiers fused as a team, while ultimately increasing their technical and tactical skills as Military Intelligence professionals and supporters.
"The Soldiers demonstrated such resolve with palpable increased confidence and resilience," said Fanitzi. "This bonded our formation tremendously."
1st Lt. Jasmine McCormick, the executive officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion, said the training allowed her detachment's Soldiers to gain familiarity and understanding working together, while providing critical support to the battalion.
"For company leadership, the goal is to develop a cohesive team that works as a single unit," said McCormick. "When Task Force Longhorn redeploys, we are able to easily integrate them into a unit that is already working within the (Expeditionary MI Brigade) construct efficiently."
Amidst the MI training conducted, the Longhorns also conducted a week of marksmanship ranges. Soldiers qualified on the M9 pistol, M4/M16 rifles, M249 light machine gun, M320 grenade launcher, and the M2A1 machine gun. The range provided the opportunity for Soldiers to zero and qualify on their assigned weapons and gain familiarity on crew-served weapon systems.
For Fanitzi, the exercise served many functions, many of which focused on leader development across the formation. Building teams requires a team effort, she said, and a solution-focused mindset.
"I view leader development as a collaborative endeavor, one where we develop and mold our team together," Fanitzi said. "Where leaders in my formation look at problems and instead of thinking through all the reasons they cannot accomplish the task, they look at the problem and ask, 'How can I do this differently, more effectively, more efficiently, together, with my team?"'