By Lt. Col. Everett "Bud" Lacroix and Maj. Brian L. BraithwaiteJanuary 31, 2019
The Army has shifted its focus from training units for a counterinsurgency fight to preparing units for a decisive action conflict against a near-peer competitor. For the movement control battalion (MCB), there is no better way to prepare for Multi-Domain Operations than by conducting a fully resourced base defense live-fire exercise (BDLFX).
In 2018, the Department of the Army updated the MCB's mission essential task list, designating the following four core mission essential tasks (METs):
• Establish movement control operations.
• Manage assigned and attached units providing transportation support.
• Conduct expeditionary deployment operations at the battalion level.
• Conduct actions associated with area defense.
These modified table of organization and equipment changes reflect the recent shift from preparing units to fight a counterinsurgency to preparing them to fight a near-peer threat in a decisive action operational environment.
The MCB must be ready to perform its core mission in decisive action. To prepare, it must instill more rigor and lethality in training and increase the complexity of its training strategy. Additionally, the MCB must rely on collaboration with its total force integration partners and have a working knowledge of mission command to maximize training realism.
The Army's high operating tempo adds to the challenge of being ready for decisive action. The move from the Army Force Generation model to the Sustainable Readiness model has leaders at all levels rethinking how they train and prepare their units to meet future challenges. Army leaders, from the Chief of Staff of the Army down to brigade commanders, emphasize the importance of readiness and lethality. Readiness must remain a top priority in order for the Army to survive and win in future conflicts.
READINESS AND THE MCB
So how does this new culture of readiness affect MCBs? According to Field Manual 3-0, Operations, an Army corps headquarters synchronizes and employs both joint and Army capabilities to dominate the land domain during large-scale combat operations. A corps does this through mission command over units from across a theater army.
The MCB, which usually falls under an expeditionary sustainment command (ESC), has capabilities an Army corps relies on to perform movement control throughout an area of operations. The MCB's survivability depends on its ability to defend itself in a contested operational environment. However, the MCB and the ESC do not have the ability to secure themselves and perform their METs. Instead, each must co-locate in the corps and theater area of operations as part of a larger force protection plan.
To effectively train to conduct actions associated with area defense, the MCB needs to conduct regularly scheduled BDLFXs with units that are attached to or under the operational control of a corps headquarters. To maximize value, these exercises should be fully resourced with enabler support, fully operationalized, and tied to a decisive action scenario that allows the MCB to train on all four METs.
When a BDLFX is fully resourced with fires and air support, then it becomes a combined arms live-fire exercise (CALFEX). In May 2018, the 49th Transportation Battalion (Movement Control) (49th MCB), 13th ESC, completed its first CALFEX. The CALFEX brought a much higher level of realism and intensity to training than the Soldiers of the MCB had previously experienced.
The 49th MCB wanted to ensure that it planned a rigorous and complex BDLFX that included as many combat enablers as possible. To facilitate this, the battalion had to find a range that would support the basic concept of a BDLFX and facilitate fires and air support. It also needed a range that would permit digging, which is important for a proper defense.
As the 49th MCB found out, ranges that facilitate all of these requirements are scarce. Although there are over 60 live-fire ranges at Fort Hood, Texas, only two allow for the type of digging that a BDLFX requires. Owl Creek Assault Course was selected based on these criteria and availability.
Once the right piece of land was identified and a basic concept was created, the request for enablers was submitted. Unfortunately, the supporting units were not tasked directly to support the exercise. Instead, the 49th MCB relied on assistance from the 13th ESC and its own longstanding relationships in order to schedule the desired enabler support.
The 49th MCB received the following support, both day and night, from units across Fort Hood:
• Engineer support from the 36th Engineer Brigade.
• Indirect fires support from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment (3rd CR).
• Air medevac and close combat aviation support from the 120th Infantry Brigade.
• Signal support from the 11th Signal Brigade.
• Real-world medical coverage from the 1st Medical Brigade.
• Chemical training and support from the 48th Chemical Brigade.
• Evaluation and higher headquarters support provided by the 13th ESC.
Adequate enabler support is important for creating effective training scenario realism. Enablers not only participated in the exercise but also provided subject matter expertise in the planning process and assisted with training prior to execution.
ENGINEER SUPPORT. Engineer support is arguably the most important enabler required for executing an effective base defense. The 36th Engineer Brigade provided engineer support to the 49th MCB twice: a month before the live-fire exercise during the MCB's field training exercise (FTX) and again during the CALFEX.
In both cases, the engineers used bulldozers and backhoe loaders to build inverted "T" fighting positions for machine guns, vehicle fighting positions, and bunkers for the battalion staff to use during indirect-fire attacks. They also assisted in placing obstacles and developing the engagement area.
The engineers used the support they provided as a training opportunity. Engineers at Fort Hood frequently use their bulldozers to dig tank, Bradley, and Stryker fighting positions, but they do not get many opportunities to perform smaller jobs. The exercise provided them with an opportunity to log hours on their backhoe loaders digging individual fighting positions.
FIRE SUPPORT. During the battalion's FTX, Soldiers from the 3rd CR taught the 49th MCB's S-3 section how to build a fire support plan and taught 49th MCB Soldiers how to call for and adjust fire. During the BDLFX, the 3rd CR provided two Strykers equipped with two 120-millimeter mortars. In all, the 3rd CR conducted 10 fire missions and fired 96 high-explosive mortar rounds and 33 illumination mortar rounds in support of the 49th MCB's training.
AIR SUPPORT. The 2nd Battalion, 291st Aviation Regiment, 120th Infantry Brigade helped coordinate support from a mobilizing Army Reserve Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB). The CAB provided two AH-64 Apache helicopters for close air support, a UH-60M Black Hawk for air medevac, and a UH-60 Black Hawk for overwatch.
CHEMICAL SUPPORT. The 48th Chemical Brigade supported the exercise by providing trainers to the MCB during the FTX to train Soldiers on their assigned chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense equipment. The trainers also taught Soldiers the personnel and equipment decontamination process.
SIGNAL SUPPORT. The 11th Signal Brigade provided a secure internet protocol router/non-secure internet protocol router access point ground satellite terminal. This signal support was critical in order to train the MCB on all of its assigned METs. Having internet connectivity made the MCB better able to maintain its installation support tasks and track the movements of assigned units on the battlefield.
MEDICAL SUPPORT. The 1st Medical Brigade provided medical trainers to assist in round-robin combat casualty care training during the FTX. During the BDLFX the brigade provided a field litter ambulance and helped the 49th MCB procure 48 new combat lifesaver bags.
HIGHER HEADQUARTERS SUPPORT. The 13th ESC provided a team that monitored the exercise and helped evaluate performance. ESC staff members and Soldiers from the ESC's 61st Quartermaster Battalion provided an opposing force during the FTX, the situational training exercise, and the blank-fire rehearsals leading to the CALFEX.
Setting high expectations, submitting requests early, and following up persistently ensured success in bringing the aforementioned enabler support together. Our partnerships emphasized that "you don't have to own it to influence it."
Mission command was at the core of the entire planning process and led to a successful BDLFX. The 49th MCB started its training strategy eight months before the BDLFX by first publishing its annual training guidance and then holding a series of leaders' reconnaissance visits.
The MCB's leaders took part in a training exercise without troops, which allowed the commanders at echelon to have a better understanding of the operational environment and the critical training tasks that needed to occur. It also helped company command teams visualize the overall mission.
The MCB went into a red-cycle tasking period before its FTX. During the cycle, the battalion conducted bi-weekly leader professional development (LPDs) sessions, which included all available officers and noncommissioned officers in the rank of staff sergeant and above. The LPDs created a shared understanding across the MCB and gave the battalion commander the opportunity to provide and describe his intent. The LPDs also helped the company commanders to develop their understanding and enabled them to build company-level teams.
The LPDs focused on explaining decisive action while emphasizing "the defense." The 49th MCB used the following sources as guides: Army Techniques Publication 3-21.8, Infantry Platoon and Squad; Training Circular (TC) 4-0.01, Sustainment Training Strategy and Guide; TC 4-11.47, The Senior Gunner Program for Sustainment Units; the Combined Arms Support Command's (CASCOM's) Sustainment Unit One Stop (SUOS) website (http://www.cascom.army.mil/g_staff/g3/SUOS/index.htm), and the 13th ESC's annual training guidance.
During the FTX, the 49th MCB seized the initiative using knowledge gained from the training exercise without troops, LPDs, and sergeant's time training and executed tasks and battle drills for the first time as a battalion. The battalion made use of the lessons learned and gained the knowledge needed going into the BDLFX.
INCORPORATING INSTALLATION SUPPORT
For the MCB, one key to a successful BDLFX was to fully operationalize in a way that allowed training on more than just the defense MET. To achieve this, the 49th MCB selected a decisive action scenario from the SUOS website and tailored it to facilitate continuation of the MCB's installation support.
During the FTX and the BDLFX, the 49th MCB continued to fulfill its installation support requirements by operationalizing transportation movement releases, logistics readiness center support obligations, and arrival/departure airfield control group duties into the overall mission plan. By doing so, it balanced defensive requirements with its real-world support missions.
The 80th Movement Control Team (MCT), 49th MCB, performed an essential role during the FTX and BDLFX by providing many movement control functions. The MCT regulated the MCB's movement plan and tracked every convoy by establishing interrogators at all critical nodes from the tactical assembly area to the logistics support area (LSA). Furthermore, the 80th MCT monitored and reported to the MCB's S-3 every tactical movement arriving and departing the LSA.
The 80th MCT also supported a real-world deployment operation for the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. During the FTX, members of the MCT conducted a daily tactical movement from the LSA to the Fort Hood Deployment Ready Reaction Field.
Over the past 15 years, the Army and especially sustainment units have invested many resources in training for and conducting convoy live-fire exercises. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of BDLFXs. As soon as the 49th MCB started planning a BDLFX, it quickly faced some major obstacles.
LACK OF BDLFX EXPERIENCE. The first obstacle was an enormous lack of experience in conducting this type of training. When researching the Center for Army Lessons Learned and the SUOS websites, the MCB found few resources to help in the training development and execution of the BDLFX.
Only two Soldiers in the 49th MCB's Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment had ever participated in a BDLFX. These two Soldiers were the battalion commander and the battalion S-3, whose experience was derived from time spent in light infantry units.
Fortunately, the 13th ESC's deputy commander and chief of staff had some BDLFX experience. As former sustainment brigade commanders, their knowledge and insights were invaluable.
RANGE SHORTAGES. The second challenge faced was Fort Hood's lack of an established range for BDLFXs. The range operations center was reluctant to approve digging permits, even for ranges designated as "free dig." This is because most ranges use electronic targets that have electric wires buried under ground. Many range operations centers are also reluctant to grant dig permits based on environmental concerns and the risks of hitting unexploded ordnance.
Although dig permits are relatively easy to obtain for designated training areas, only one weapons range allowed digging. Fortunately, with a great deal of persistence, Fort Hood Range Control Operations approved the MCB's permits at the Owl Creek Assault Course.
After more than a decade of not focusing on base defense, these restrictions are understandable, but units should be prepared to push a little and help change the mindset at their respective installations. Installations with multiple units that have a BDLFX requirement should work to create designated BDLFX. With a little persistence, range operations centers will usually do what it takes to help.
A LACK OF GUIDANCE. Very little is published on how to resource and conduct a BDLFX. CASCOM has done an excellent job outlining guidance for the sustainment unit gunnery and the convoy live-fire exercise (CLFX) in associated training circulars. To complement this, it must now create the same level of guidance for conducting the BDLFX.
In the absence of this guidance, the 49th MCB's S-3 tailored guidance from Army Techniques Publication 3-21.8 to meet the unique characteristics of the MCB. Unlike a brigade support battalion, which establishes its own brigade support area with its own security element, or one from its supported brigade, the much smaller MCB does not have enough Soldiers to conduct a complete 360-degree base defense. It must be part of a larger base cluster.
The 49th MCB used Army Techniques Publication 3-21.8 to create a scenario that allowed it to train on its defensive tasks. CASCOM recently developed TC 4-11.46, Sustainment Unit Gunnery and Live Fire Exercise Strategy, which provides detailed guidance for training vehicle gun crews and conducting CLFXs. However, the TC mentions the BDLFX only in passing. More must be written on the BDLFX and the sustainment CALFEX.
EXERCISE SUPPORT. Corps and divisions need to increase the priority of support for MCBs and other echelons-above-brigade sustainment units conducting live-fire exercises. The MCB is tasked with supporting decisive action operations in any operational environment with little to no notice. MCBs and ESCs across the Army often are tasked to support operations and training simultaneously in support of their assigned corps. The MCB and the ESC strive to ensure that no mission fails because of logistics. In turn, solid relationships, built on an understanding of interdependence and mutual support, form between supporting and supported units.
Maneuver units need ESC and MCB support to train and execute their missions, and the ESC and MCB need their support to train on defensive METs. The MCB and other like units should not have to rely on previously established relationships and personal connections in order to receive enabler support. It is not the most efficient way, and it does not reflect proper emphasis on ensuring decisive action training for all units in all warfighting functions. Corps and their supporting sustainment commands should plan, integrate, and prioritize the training requirements of all echelons-above-brigade sustainment units.
COORDINATED TRAINING. Both the theater sustainment command and the ESC can greatly assist their subordinate units with the successful conduct of BDLFX and CLFXs by ensuring that training events, especially those supported by enablers, are coordinated among their subordinate units. It takes too much effort and too many resources to put together a BDLFX for just one battalion.
Combining efforts and training at the ESC level ensures units get the most out of training. One key member of the staff that should assist in this effort is the master gunner. It is not practical for an MCB to maintain a trained master gunner on its roster, but the ESC should have a trained master gunner on its staff to assist in the planning, execution, and safety of all live-fire exercises.
Realistic training that focuses on the base defense is critical for the MCB and other sustainment units. There is no better way to accomplish this training than by executing a fully resourced and supported BDLFX. A culture change is required within the sustainment community to fully embrace a higher level of training intensity in order to get the full benefit.
Overcoming the challenges will not be easy and requires a collaborative effort from leaders at all levels. Units must start building knowledge and experience now by planning and conducting BDLFXs as frequently as they do CLFXs. Units should then write about their experiences with the BDLFX so that we can learn from each other.
Sustainment units should also push for change at their respective installations and start working with range operations to designate ranges designed to facilitate BDLFXs. And each sustainment command needs to staff a sustainment master gunner who will assist subordinate units in planning and executing BDLFXs, help secure enabler support, and synchronize training plans and strategies in order to fully maximize training value.
With hard work and persistence, every sustainment unit can plan and conduct a successful BDLFX. With the right resources and support, a BDLFX is guaranteed to be a challenging and rewarding training event. Each leader and Soldier of the 49th MCB who participated grew in experience and confidence and now understands what can be achieved through a fully resourced BDLFX.
Lt. Col. Everett "Bud" Lacroix is the battalion commander for the 49th MCB at Fort Hood, Texas. He holds a master's degree in administration with a concentration in leadership from Central Michigan University. He is a graduate of the Marine Corps School of Infantry and Marine Combat Training, the Transportation Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, Intermediate Level Education, and the Joint and Combined Warfighting School.
Maj. Brian L. Braithwaite is the battalion executive officer for the 49th MCB. He holds a master's degree from the Command and General Staff College and a bachelor's degree in political science from Weber State University. He is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, Intermediate Level Education, Joint Professional Military Education, Ranger School, and Airborne School.
This article is an Army Sustainment product.