By Brandon OConnorJuly 17, 2019
By Capt. Dustin Lawrence
Attack Company Commander, Task Force 1-28 Infantry
Cresting Cranberry Hill would have been a dangerous venture midway through June this year. Direct and indirect fires crescendoed at the base of the well-known West Point land mass before an audience of West Point cadets at an observation point.
The second annual Cadet Summer Training Combined Arms Live-Fire Exercise (CALFEX) displayed not only the capabilities of multiple air and ground assets-but also ability to synchronize across branches and services.
The task of conducting a CALFEX is an arduous and meticulous task. Coordination usually occurs at high echelons, between branches and services by multiple military occupation specialties. The coordination for this year's CALFEX occurred between empowered leaders of two elements-West Point and Task Force 1-28 Infantry.
Task Force 1-28 brings a lot of combat power to bear. As the Army's only organic light infantry task force, an artillery battery, engineer company, geo-intelligence cell, air defense artillery management (ADAM) and brigade aviation element (BAE) are structured alongside three infantry companies, a heavy weapons company and a field support company.
The Task Force is unique in this regard. As a light infantry company commander, I can walk across the street to directly coordinate training with a battery commander or engineer commander.
We essentially are the perfect element to conduct combined arms training.
However, there is no online ordering process to get an A-10 Thunderbolt II, no app to request AH-64 Apaches. An AN/TWQ-1 Avenger isn't a phone call away. For these assets, the Task Force must ask higher.
Luckily, we walked into a ready-made scenario. West Point had already secured close air support, an air weapons team and air defense assets.
This, no doubt, required detective work, inquisitive research and good old fashioned trial and error. However, even with an organic task force on the ground and these assets secured, there was plenty more to do.
AH-64 Apache Airships, for example, don't just fly over from Fort Campbell. The long flight requires civilian airspace to be deconflicted during their movement. In order to refit for multiple iterations, a Forward Arming and Refueling Point had to be established. Once on the ground, the scenario must be briefed along with Airspace Coordination Measures (ACM) in order to prevent any confliction with the direct fire weapon systems.
The A-10s, despite having longer range, bring their own coordination points. The long flight from Baltimore had to perfectly synchronize with the ground scenario. Again, Airspace Coordination Measures had to be briefed and rehearsed.
Given that the pilots were not co-located here at West Point, these rehearsals had to occur over the phone.
In order to fire their GAU-8/A Avenger, a 30 mm hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-style autocannon, the surface danger zones (SDZ) had to be planned. When over-laid on a map of the impact area, the SDZs spill over, requiring areas around the range complex to be shut down.
What facilitated all these steps to happen? There were two things.
The first was rehearsals. Every individual asset brought its own set of considerations to the execution of the scenario. To not address these considerations in a forum where everyone is present, is to accept a mediocre performance.
The second was mature empowered leaders reaching across units, branches and services to other mature empowered leaders.
Above every leader-whether it was the ADA Platoon Leader, the Squad Leader in the fighting position, the Company or Battery Commander, or the USMA CALFEX OIC-there was a leader who trusted them to coordinate and make decisions.
What cadets this summer saw on Cranberry Hill was not just a demonstration of effects, but the power of leaders in the most technologically advanced Army in the World.