FORT HOOD, Texas (August 23, 2017) -- A combined, joint exercise among several Fort Hood-based units served as a culminating training event for one unit preparing for a possible overseas deployment. Soldiers with the 504th Military Intelligence Brigade conducted an External Evaluation (EXEVAL) at Fort Hood and Fort Sam Houston's Camp Bullis, July 23-30, to test their systems and personnel.
The exercise served as a certification for the 504th in preparation for answering the nation's call wherever and whenever that time may come. As part of the training, Soldiers from the 15th and 206th Military Intelligence Battalions (Aerial Exploitation), 3rd Cavalry Regiment, and III Corps' G2 (Intelligence) section served as external evaluators to the brigade. In that role, the Soldiers mentored 504th Soldiers in aspects of ground and aerial intelligence collection, mission command, and Tactical Operations Center responsibilities. Airmen from the U.S. Air Force's 3rd Weather Squadron also participated to provide expert weather analysis and forecasting during the exercise.
During the training, the brigade assumed the role of Task Force Ready, a task force that coordinates the ground and aerial intelligence collection assets for a combat theater of operations. The U.S. military utilizes numerous assets, known as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance systems, to support commanders' intelligence requirements. In the simulation exercise, TF Ready managed both manned and unmanned aerial assets, as well as ground-based Military Intelligence Soldiers collecting both signals and human intelligence in a deployed location.
"This exercise is important for the brigade not only because it certifies us on our future mission, but even more so since this particular mission is something that this brigade has never done, and certain aspects of it are very much unfamiliar to us," Chief Warrant Officer 3 Vanessa Scott said. "So we made it a point during this (exercise) to focus on teaching and mentoring our Soldiers as they went through the various scenarios with the help of the 15th and 206th personnel."
Scott served as the exercise's 'White Cell' Director, who is responsible for managing each scenario the 504th personnel faced in a Tactical Operations Center environment. Known as "injects," the scenarios ranged from lost communication links with unmanned aircraft to severe weather to Soldier casualties from indirect fire. Each element of the brigade staff was involved to synchronize a total-staff effort to remedy each scenario.
One of the most important functions of the TOC is the battle staff -- the Radio/Telephone Operator, the Battle Noncommissioned Officer, and the Battle Captain. The trio of Soldiers serves as the senior managers in an operations center, and functions to monitor, track and disseminate combat power information. For Capt. Kendall Gomber, an Assistant Operations Officer in the 504th, serving in the role of Battle Captain was an unfamiliar and unique role.
"I have not served as a Battle Captain before, and this position is very unique," Capt. Gomber said. "Because usually when you think of a battle captain, you think of ground forces, as opposed to (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) assets. So looking at ISR assets and teams in a very different way than you might just typically count your combat power, and the systems and processes we developed through the course of this exercise, really helped us to see our available assets in a clearer light."
A common challenge for any battle staff and unit staff is communicating across many levels and within the staff itself. For Gomber, a lesson learned was the need for continuous communication and having a common situational understanding across the brigade.
"I think my biggest takeaway is just the need for constant communication and ensuring that the situational awareness that we have inside our battle team -- the RTO, battle NCO and myself - gets out across the staff, across the task force, to higher and lower; to ensure we all share that situational understanding of the operational environment," Gomber said.
The captain attributed much of the exercise's success to the external evaluators, many of whom had previously served in battle staff positions in combat locations. She said the knowledge gained from those Soldiers was "invaluable."
Under Task Force Ready, one subordinate unit is Task Force ODIN (Observe, Detect, Identify and Neutralize), a battalion-sized element that operates manned and unmanned aircraft. Ranging from King Air, twin-engine-type aircraft to the MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft, TF ODIN manages the aerial assets for intelligence collection.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Thomas Shellhart served as the TF ODIN commander during the exercise, and said as a military aviator, it was also a learning experience to interact with Military Intelligence personnel, but the fundamentals are the same.
"Coming from an aviation background, this is kind of a new world for me, but it really does come down to communication," Shellhart said. "We have so many avenues to communicate and to pass information, but it's hard to know what to pass, and what avenue to pass that on."
He added that his role as a subordinate, role-player battalion commander is to give Courses of Action to the brigade commander, and help guide decision-making to implement those assets to best support the ground force commander.
The exercise took place at the Fort Hood Mission Command Training Center, and also included the 163rd Military Intelligence Battalion at Fort Sam Houston's Camp Bullis.