As regular unit deployments wind down and the Army scales back from a decade and a half of continuous conflict, solid, effective training that keeps Soldiers focused has become a key component to maintaining readiness.
This theme comes right from the Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Mark Milley, who has made readiness his number one priority, and said in his Army Readiness Guidance for 2016-17 that the Army must "prioritize and protect home station training environments through disciplined tasking governance, improved management of mandatory training, and reinvigorated unit training management across all echelons of command."
At the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, the challenge of providing the tools the warfighter needs is hardly a new one. However, the way that those tools find their way into the field has taken a new direction with the Home Station Training Initiative (HSTI).
Key stakeholders in the HSTI come from the spectrum of readiness enablers - not only CECOM, but Program Executive Offices (PEO), the Army Research Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA (ALT)) are synchronizing their efforts to improve readiness.
CECOM Operations and Field Support (G-3) and the Program Executive Office, Command, Control, Communication -- Tactical (PEO C3T) and others who comprise Team C4ISR, are coordinating the HSTI charge, in particular providing the right tools at the right time for units as they train up to rotations at the Combat Training Centers (CTC), namely the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, La., and the National Training Center (NTC) in Fort Irwin, Calif.
"Home Station Training is a broad initiative by CECOM and our C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) partners that aims to improve the readiness of Army units and the field support personnel that support them," said Chris Scott, CECOM G-3 Command Synchronization Officer. "Units have had habitual issues with particular systems at their CTC rotations, which seem to reoccur regardless of unit, and based on the data we're collecting, most of the issues could be resolved at the operator or unit maintainer level."
HSTI aims to improve readiness, reduce the integration burden at the Brigade Combat team level and below, synchronize outputs and innovate the use of institutional sustainment training platforms, increase the agility of PEO/PM New Equipment Training and Fielding, and reduce reliance on contracted logistical support.
Units have relied on contractor expertise for their C4ISR systems for many years, often at the expense of Soldier training. While there are multiple avenues for C4ISR training at most installations, units are not aware of many of them and the training providers are typically not synchronized with each other to accommodate a unit's training requirements. Units have also had issues identifying the entry points into their embedded field support, for example having to call multiple points of contact vice one single entry POC.
The Initial Key Personnel Training (IKPT), New Equipment Training (NET) and New Equipment Fielding (NEF) and Tech Assist processes are being reviewed to see where they can be more efficient in establishing a lifecycle training program on the newly fielded systems. During NET/NEF, field support personnel and the units' senior subject matter experts, referred to as IKPT (Warrant Officers, technical NCOs, etc.) are often trained with operators/maintainers instead of maximizing their expertise by training them to a higher level earlier in the process.
Higher level training for the WO's, NCO's and field support personnel (Logistics Assistance Representatives/Field Service Engineers/Field Service Representatives/Division Support Elements, etc.) is a critical investment, which will assist operators/maintainers during and after NET/NEF. They are often the most reliable and accessible over-the-shoulder training assistance after NET/NET and most able to sustain proficiency throughout the lifecycle of the equipment.
"We work with the Signal University and the Mission Training Complex which is Installation Management Command (IMCOM), already sustainment organizations, have them fill the gap after we (PEO C3T) are done with NET," said Rich Licata, PEO C3T Field Support Optimization Chief. Collective effort is required by the units and enterprise wide in order to identify the training gaps, train the SMEs (operators and maintainers), and sustain Soldier proficiency once equipment has been fielded and Soldier transition occurs.
In actuality, this is nothing new, the resources have been available but not presented as a cohesive solution set. The use of trouble ticket analysis during units' CTC rotations identifies trends that will assist with the training management of the unit, while continuously identifying training capability gaps. It also provides feedback to the institutions on some of the deficient skillsets across the formations.
The C4ISR team is working with FORSCOM and the 82nd Airborne Division to conduct several pilot iterations of the HSTI. Once data is correlated, analyzed and challenges are addressed, the process will be expanded to encompass other units; some units are already using the trouble ticket analysis in preparation for exercises, CTC exercises and deployments.
"We'll do a forum, from soup to nuts, of how this works, then we'll replicate the process," said Licata.
From a process perspective, team C4ISR is evaluating all the tools used to track tech support request.
"The C4ISR team uses a tool called Remedy Incident Reporting Module (IRM)," said Hector Rodriguez, CECOM Senior Command Representative to the 407th AFSB at Fort Hood, Texas. "We adapted IRM's use to contextualize and demonstrate unit support trends to identify gaps in maintainer operator proficiency for the family of C4ISR weapon systems. It helps us know what areas to focus training, what type, what level, why and how badly (it is needed)."
In order to resolve these and other issues several concrete steps have been taken.
"We are working to provide feedback to a unit after their exercises on what systems see the most requests for field support assistance, then show that unit where and how to get training support for their personnel from the various training providers available to them," said Scott. "We will identify ways to improve the NET/NEF process, and recommend any changes to policies, processes, and resourcing; develop programs with the PEOs/PMs to ensure that Field Support personnel and Unit tech assist SMEs are trained prior to the unit NET, develop formalized yearly training plans for our C4ISR field support personnel; and streamline field support to create a single face to the field so that a unit knows exactly who to contact when they need field support assistance."
This is a continuous course, and not just a one-time event. The goal is to make these processes a part of the unit's training cycle. Each SCR and their teams incorporate HSTI into their planning. A analytical team from the CECOM Logistics and Readiness Center (LRC) has been collecting unit CTC data for the last year and a half, and creates a report after each rotation analyzing what systems had the most trouble tickets elevated to the field support level and at what level of support it should or could have been resolved -- by the operator, or at a higher support tier.
"Our primary focus right now has been establishing pilot programs with the Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, spearheaded by Dennis Stephens, the CECOM SCR for the East Region," said Scott. "We are currently establishing two pilots. One to develop the program for training data analysis feedback and training plan development for units scheduled for CTCs later this year, and another to provide training to Field Support personnel and unit tech assist SMEs (IKPT) prior to the unit's scheduled new equipment fielding and training in early FY-17. We've received unit buy-in from each of the three BCTs (1/82, 2/82, and 3/82), and have already started scheduling training classes for 3/82.
"Units are adjusting their training plans based on decreasing deployments, and as the deployments start to lessen, so do the resources they've relied on for the last 15 years," Scott explained. "We've given these units a lot of complex systems over that time, and we need to be sure that they can operate them in our current environment. HSTI is all about enabling units to train their personnel."
There are some smart and experienced teammates in the CECOM G-3 team synchronizing the HSTI efforts, putting the right people in the right places at the right time. The main experts are the CECOM representatives in the field, the Senior Command Reps (SCRs), Division Trail Bosses, LARS, FSEs, FSRs and the Program Offices. These are the folks who interact with the units every day, and make sure the entire HSTI is coordinated with the units.
Additionally, the LRC's Training Support Division (TSD) runs the Signal/Digital University programs at installations across CONUS (and a few OCONUS), and are closely linked to forward support elements to ensure units know their capabilities to train Soldiers. Another group working on this is a task force that grew from the November 2015 Joint Acquisition Sustainment Review, which is looking at the entire NET/NEF process, and is a combined effort between CECOM, PEO C3T, and PEO IEW&S.
"Last but certainly not least, our C4ISR partners (PEO C3T and IEW&S, and the various PMs) have an integral role, and we look at this as a C4ISR effort, not just a CECOM effort," Scott said. "We can't do any of this if we're not coordinated. The future is to focus on efforts with specific units using pilot programs to show how HSTI can be effective. Once we've made some progress with units to show how they can improve, the intent is to widen the effort across the Army."