FORT POLK, La. -- Games must have rules. A simple game may have its rules printed on the game board while a complex one has its rules lined out in a booklet. Some games, like football or baseball, also use referees or umpires to help enforce the rules.
For Army units, a combat training center rotation works like a game in that it, too, has rules, and because of the complexities of this war "game," referees are also required. They are called observer-controller-trainers, or OCTs.
Rotational units, or RTUs, usually see OCTs scribbling notes in green books or listening to unknown entities through their earpieces. They are always in the background but stay close to the group. They are technically invisible but must maintain the professional standard of appearance and conduct, and be experts in their respective military occupational specialties.
But OCTs are not to be feared just because they can call foul on an action. The primary functions of the OCTs are to enforce the rules of the game (Exercise Rules of Engagement, or EXROE), monitor safety, and to coach, teach and mentor Soldiers through after action reviews, or AARs. They are more than adjudicators in the field -- they are teachers and facilitators of critical thinking.
The Army chooses who will become an OCT based on experience and time in service, and once they are assigned to the Joint Readiness Training Center, they must attend the OCT Academy, a five-day course held on North Fort at the Joint Readiness Training Center here. This is where they learn the basics of their new role as OCTs.
The academy teaches them the rules according to EXROE and other considerations for training: Safety precautions, environmental impacts, dealing with real-world casualties, how to work with multiple integrated laser engagement system (MILES), radio usage, support personnel and vehicles, exercise control measures and how to facilitate an AAR.
"OCTs don't know everything but the academy gives them the framework they need to do the job. The main thing to remember is that doctrine is the framework of how the Army fights," said OCT Academy instructor Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Fields. "As OCTs go through the academy, they all learn the same things and can share that knowledge with the RTU, so they'll get coaching based on doctrine rather than an individual's experience." This creates continuity in learning across the Army and standardizes practices.
JRTC rotations are dynamic and involve several military assets. Each rotational unit component (platoon, company) has an OCT with the same MOS assigned during the rotation. Part of an OCT's job is to observe the actions of that component, notate those actions, and only step in if a safety issue is at stake or if Army doctrine or EXROE are not being followed. If there is a violation of those rules, the offending party is said to be "EXROEd," meaning that an on-the-spot correction had to be made. Being EXROEd has consequences -- failure to wear eye protection may result in that Soldier now being considered medically compromised due to eye injury, or an unguarded weapon may result in that weapon being deemed inoperative. Serious violations may result in the immediate removal from the exercise and a referral to the chain of command.
The OCT makes these decisions not to "punish," but rather to make the RTU aware of its shortcomings. RTUs, opposing forces (OPFOR) and civilians-on-the-battlefield (roleplayers) are subject to EXROE.
The EXROE are listed in a thick manual that becomes part of the OCT's mini-library, which will generally be carried in the OCT's utility pouch during rotations. Other references in this library include an OCT/OPFOR handbook, environmental compliance field card, booklet for contacting or troubleshooting MILES, and other assorted references. Along with these materials, an OCT also keeps a detailed log of the rotational unit's actions, the training calendar, weather reports and other information.
The OCT uses all this information to help the training unit accomplish its goals, which are part of the commander's intent for training (established during the planning phase of a rotation). Units are already trained to do their job, but a rotation puts those skills to the test in a realistic combat environment and any deficiencies will be obvious to the unit, commander and note-taking OCTs. These notes are then used during an AAR, and that is where an OCT's role changes from adjudicator to teacher -- more specifically, conversation facilitator.
During an AAR, everyone gets a say in what went wrong, what went right, what could be improved and what lessons were learned. The OCT ensures the conversation stays on topic and that key actions are addressed. The OCT can use video and photography products, maps and other training and visual aides to assist in the formal AAR, which usually comes at the end of the rotation. During an informal AAR, which can occur at anytime, visual aides may be as simple as pinecones and drawings in the dirt, but the lesson is no less valuable. The point of any AAR is to allow units to see themselves in action and draw their own conclusions about improvements, and an OCT may have taken useful notes to that end. The AAR is also used ensure all training objectives have been addressed.
The OCT Academy is held about once a month. During the April iteration, one student, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Richard Bevins, said the course showed him how he can be an effective OCT. "I've been through rotations here as part of the RTU. Most of us saw the OCTs and thought, 'oh no, not that guy,' but soon learned that they really are there to coach and mentor," he said. "Now that I've had the class, I have a better understanding of EXROE and the OCT/OPFOR Handbook, and how those rules apply. That will make me a better OCT."