By Maj. Kevin KrupskiJanuary 16, 2020
The same scene occurs in every division, corps, and service component command as eager iron majors await notification of their key developmental assignment. As thoughts of armor or engineer battalions dance in their heads they receive notice of their next job: The headquarters and headquarters battalion (HHBN). The near universal response to this is: "What is a HHBN?" Many officers train to work on a division staff, but few realize they may have to run the staff that supports the staff.
The Army's focus on readiness centers on the Decisive Action Training Environment (DATE). Divisions and corps expend a great amount of organizational time, energy, and resources on training plans to develop their staffs to synchronize the warfighting functions across their formations. To that end, the Army requires that units evaluated in warfighter exercises conduct their training under "field conditions." However, every unit has different definitions of that requirement. Additionally, the Mission Command Training Program (MCTP) lacks any emphasis on the evaluation of how the staff is able to maneuver and protect itself outside of the warfighter simulation. That is typically a task left to the HHBN and subordinate companies.
This article argues that tactical and operational headquarters units must incorporate HHBN collective training tasks into their training plan in order to properly train as they fight as they focus on the DATE scenario. What follows is a summary of how the 3rd Infantry Division trained for Warfighter 19-02 as well as the HHBN's convoy and base defense live fires. Based on those experiences, I identify significant lessons learned and offer an integrated training strategy to connect operational staffs to the tactical scenarios they will experience.
WHAT IS AN HHBN?
All division, corps, and Army echelons have a HHBN, although the structure for each echelon's headquarters battalion differs (FM 3-94, THEATER ARMY, CORPS, AND DIVISION OPERATIONS, 21 April 2014, 1-8). At all levels, the HHBN receives direction from the chief of staff.
At the corps level, the battalion provides "communications, transportation, and medical support to the corps headquarters. The battalion's personnel and equipment support the main command post, tactical command post, and mobile command group. The battalion provides administrative (including the Uniform Code of Military Justice) and life support to the additional resources assigned or attached to the corps headquarters--such as a band, security assets, and joint or interagency augmentation--as required" (FM 3-94, THEATER ARMY, CORPS, AND DIVISION OPERATIONS, 21 April 2014, 4-16).
The division-level HHBN provides similar capabilities as the corps HHBN. Based on the current structure of a division HHBN, if you look at the personnel numbers, you will notice that the HHBN is a shell of an actual battalion staff. The companies are similarly short-staffed, and most personnel in the battalion are actual members of the division staff. In addition, there is no "support" company, so the battalion must rely on external support to complete most sustainment functions.
There are two companies that encompass the entire division staff: The Headquarters Support Company (HSC) and the Signals, Intelligence, and Sustainment Company (SIS). The HSC "provides sustainment support and commands the local security section provided by an outside organization … is designated as the headquarters commandant for the deployed contingency command post ... is responsible for administrative and sustainment support for the headquarters as well as planning and commanding the access control, perimeter defense, and reaction forces" (FM 3-94, THEATER ARMY, CORPS, AND DIVISION OPERATIONS, 21 April 2014, 2-19).
The HHBN and its subordinate elements are conduits of support, capable of limited sustainment functions but heavily reliant on external assets to properly sustain division command posts. According to modified table of organization and equipment (MTOE), all Soldiers and equipment are assigned a role in either the main or tactical command post, to include the maintenance sections. To the extent that the HHBN is capable of providing support, it will necessarily take Soldiers already assigned command post tasks to execute those functions in a secondary role.
The 3rd Infantry Division conducted three command post exercises (CPXs) and a warfighter exercise between June and November 2018. This training path offered multiple opportunities to establish the division's command posts. In each exercise the division deployed three command posts: Division Main (DMAIN), Division Tactical Command Post (DTAC), and Sustainment Area Command Post (SACP). Each command post maneuvered independently in the Fort Stewart, Ga., Training area.
Providing mission command for three command posts is beyond the organic capability of the DMAIN. The division assigned a maneuver company TACON to HHBN to provide additional protection capabilities, with a platoon attached to each command post. This is a doctrinally acceptable solution since "The division tasks a subordinate unit to secure the main and tactical command posts as required" (FM 3-94, THEATER ARMY, CORPS, AND DIVISION OPERATIONS, 21 April 2014, 6-3). HHBN then assigned a company to co-locate with each command post: HSC with DMAIN, SIS with the SACP, and the maneuver company to the DTAC. The battalion headquarters remained with the DMAIN. This configuration allowed increased situational awareness and rapid reaction to sustainment issues across the command posts.
The warfighter experience identified many areas to improve. First, while the maneuver company was beneficial, that combat power is better utilized in other areas. The division needed to better protect itself with organic assets. Doing so requires slowing of the command post operations to allow sustainable work/rest cycles. Second, tactical movement and occupation of command posts is not an evaluated event of a warfighter, but properly moving chalks and conducting occupation of areas would take much longer than current training allows.
COLLECTIVE LIVE FIRE TRAINING
A HHBN is required to conduct a base defense live fire exercise once every two years, and a convoy live fire annually. After Warfighter 19-02, the HHBN began training for a combined base defense and convoy live fire exercise that focused on the protection of the DMAIN. The training scenario directed the unit to establish the DMAIN in a "consolidation area" and then begin steady state operations, to include convoy logistics patrols against a dedicated OPFOR. This allowed HSC and SIS to each conduct iterations through a convoy live fire lane. After that, the OPFOR attacked the DMAIN, prompting a base defense that incorporated indirect fires, attack aviation, and aerial medevac. At the completion of the base defense, the DMAIN was forced to "jump" and move the entire element through the convoy live fire lane. HHBN executed dry, blank, and live iterations of each task, in day and night conditions, which proved to be a very grueling pace of operations.
The execution of the training event was an opportunity to stress systems and identify training and equipping shortfalls to improve. The first area was Soldier-level training, the second area was small-unit leader capabilities, and the last was coordination of mission command.
A problem of any headquarters unit is finding time to simultaneously execute primary functions of a staff and train on individual and collective warfighting tasks. The same Soldiers that the headquarters relies on to man its most casualty producing direct fire weapons must also repair vehicles in the motor pool, run company supply rooms, conduct intelligence analysis, and execute other essential jobs. Not only do these tasks consume much of their time, but they also require training to maintain proficiency. Therefore, sequestering dedicated time and proficient leaders to conduct individual-level training requires a deliberate plan that garners support throughout the division staff.
Mid-level leadership experiences the same stressors as individual Soldiers: balancing competing demands. In an HHBN, many NCOs are very proficient at their occupational specialty but possess varying levels of expertise leading Soldiers in a tactical environment. Dedicating time to developing these leaders on the capabilities of their weapons systems, conducting proper checks on their Soldiers, reporting section status, and so on, will pay dividends later.
The last difficulty was coordination of all warfighting functions in an organization that spans the division staff across two companies and incorporates multiple enablers. The HHBN was dual-hatted as the higher command and exercise control for the exercise, which proved to be a stretch beyond its capabilities. In reality, the HHBN could only do one role, meaning that a full base defense requires higher echelon involvement.
The combination of a warfighter train-up with a live fire exercise offered many lessons learned for how the division can better exist in real space. The following recommendations focus on an ideal training path that addresses the major lessons from these training events.
Divisions must take the time to train their HHBNs (and other support battalions) with the same vigor as their combat battalions. A battalion planning its own base defense is like asking a platoon to plan its own platoon live fire. A battalion base defense requires a division level order assigning enablers and opposing forces as well as evaluators and controllers. Ideally, the HHBN trains to a "run" as the division begins the "crawl" phase of a warfighter train-up. This limits distractors for the training of the division Mission Essential Tasks so the division staff can focus on its core functions. Better yet, the optimal training path that could take advantage of a multi-echeloned training opportunity would combine the live fire exercise (convoy or base defense) with CPX I, seamlessly combining the respective "run" and "crawl" events of each echelon.
The current guidance for warfighter exercises are for units to conduct them in a field environment. However, there is little detailed guidance beyond that and there is no evaluation of tactical security by an external evaluator. Assigning personnel to evaluate the tactical security of divisions during movement, occupation, and displacement will force units to better incorporate tactical plans into their training plans. Units will react to what observers inspect. Poor command post security at the National Training Center can devastate a headquarters and units at brigade and below place a large emphasis on their protection. Surely a similar inject in warfighters would encourage division behavior.
Properly trained HHBNs generate options for the commander and efficiently utilize resources to maximize capabilities in the deep and close fights. The staff and the battalion can work hand in hand to ensure that while increasing readiness of the unit and its Soldiers.
Maj. Kevin Krupski is executive officer for 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, and previously served as operations officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Infantry Division. He holds a bachelor's degree from the United States Military Academy, as well as a master's degree and doctorate in public administration from Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, at Syracuse University. He is a graduate of infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course, Maneuver Captain's Career Coures, and thhe U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
This article was published in the January-March 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.