FORT BRAGG, N.C. -In the past few years, the Army has transformed itself from a traditional fighting force to a modular force that now uses virtual reality to conduct many of the tasks once performed manually.
The Army recently introduced its Infantry Brigade Combat Team Warfighters' Forum, which serves as a vehicle to provide real-time, operational input on battlefield situations to the institutional Army.
The XVIII Airborne Corps plays a major part in the Warfighters' Forum, which is made up of three Army corps, I Corps, which is headquartered at Fort Lewis, Wash., III Corps, headquartered at Fort Hood, Texas and features the 1st Cavalry Division, 4th Infantry Division and 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and the Fort Bragg-based XVIII Airborne Corps, which features the 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized).
The XVIII Airborne Corps oversees the largest group of units within the overall forum. These units, called a community of purpose, includes 43 active and National Guard infantry brigade combat teams, 14 divisions that own IBCTs and 24 state National Guard units.
Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commanding general, XVIII Airborne Corps and Multinational Corps-Iraq, serves as the senior mentor for the forum, which is a coordinated effort between the U.S. Army Forces Command, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and the Army Materiel Command. The IWfF has direct liaison authority to coordinate staffing between all three of those commands and other agencies involved in the overall effort.
The XVIII Abn. Corps and Multinational Corps-Iraq deputy commanding general, Major Gen. Michael Ferriter serves as the forum's executive director, while Lt. Col. Scott Harris serves as the forum's director.
Harris explained that the creation of the IWfF is similar to when the Army was fielding its Stryker infantry combat vehicle a few years ago. The forum allows direct communication between the troops on the ground and Army senior leadership in an effort to address any problems that may affect the actions on the battlefield.
"About a year ago, General Charles Campbell, the FORSCOM
commander got together with the commanders of TRADOC and the AMC and said let's do this same thing for the infantry community and the heavy brigade combat team community," Harris said. "They signed a 12-star charter that formalized warfighter forums for the three formations."
Harris pointed out that the other two corps commanders, Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, the III Corps commanding general and Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, CG of I Corps, are also senior mentors for their forums.
"The First Corps commander is the senior mentor for the Stryker community and Third Corps is for the heavy brigade combat teams," he explained.
Harris said the charter, which was signed by Campbell and two other MACOM commanders, Gen. William S. Wallace, TRADOC and AMC's Gen. Benjamin S. Griffin, gave the forum's senior mentors direct liaison with anyone within the Department of Defense to work through problems and share lessons learned.
"Now we have coordinating authority with all divisions," he said. "Remember how we used to be XVIII Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division, 101st, 3rd Infantry Division and the 10th Mountain' Well that's all gone away with modularity. Now General Austin has any division or location that has a light infantry brigade combat team. He has mentorship, an informal relationship with them."
Harris said the forum, as a community of purpose, will feature all the personnel who can have an effect on an IBCT, including the IBCTs, the divisions and the enablers, which include the various support elements.
Harris pointed out that the key to the forum, which he said, has been operational for about a year now, is the information received from the IBCT leaders, whether in theater or during training.
"We've gotten phenomenal," he said. "This is sort of like connectivity and MySpace for Army leaders."
Harris said the new forum consists of the ability to video-teleconference and an online portal to communicate throughout the community of purpose. The forum provides valuable information on lessons-learned and raises issues that affect the IBCT community. He said the forum serves as a strategy for teaching, training and collaboration.
"We've embraced some of this new technology that our kids are using and they're kind of like digital natives," Harris explained. "The power of that collaboration is so far-reaching, it's really infinite.
"This isn't just a Web site or a blog site, but those are some of the tools that we use," he continued. "It enables leaders from across the Army to collaborate and share ideas, without having to take a trip here to Fort Bragg."
Harris said the forum has been successful in sharing lessons learned, in the face of an adaptive enemy in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.
"What we've done is created this informal relationship so that we can learn lessons learned from theater and share those across a large expanse throughout the Army so that we can get that information out that quick," Harris said.
He reiterated that the purpose of the forum is to get operational information to the institutional Army.
"The operational Army is like the XVIII Airborne Corps, the 82nd Airborne Division and the brigades," he explained. "The institutional Army is people like TRADOC, (units that) write doctrine and that type of stuff."
He said the forum, which is a blog-type, forum Web site, is key to getting great feedback to different sources. It is also an effective tool for speeding up long-lasting processes.
"This is a leaders' forum, from corporal, or team leader, all the way up to brigade commander (colonel)," said Harris, who formerly served as the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. "It also includes the division commanders who exercise training readiness oversight over the IBCTs."
Harris pointed out that various units serve as enablers for the IBCTs. The enablers include centers of Excellence for Fires, Signal, Intelligence, Logistics, Soldier Support, Maneuver Support and Maneuver.
"The forum is like one-stop shopping for the IBCT commander," Harris said.
He said through the forum, commanders world-wide have the capability of accessing real-time deployed unit data, such as operational and intelligence summaries and significant activity with the deployed theater.
Another tool for the senior level commanders is the senior mentor symposiums, in which various commanders from across the world are able to converse on different topics.
"The ability to communicate through these means provides limitless capabilities," Harris said.