In his 2008 book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell wrote about mastering complex skills and materials, and concluded that in “in an incredible number of fields ... you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.”
The Soldiers and Civilians of the 20th CBRNE Command headquarters put in many of those hours during a command post exercise Dec. 3-10 at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. In the words of Col. Chris Bartos, assistant chief of staff for operations, the staff was taking steps in its “road to war” as it prepares for Global Defender 22, a U.S. Army Europe and Africa-focused exercise scheduled for Fort Hood, Texas, in April 2022.
“This CPX allows the staff to get sets and reps on the military decision-making process and coordinate and synchronize on the European theater,” said Bartos, who came to the command over the summer. “We had a significant staff turnover this year – more than half of us are new – and we want to go through our processes to understand how we work together to enable Warfighter lethality.”
The 20th CBRNE Command has largely focused its efforts on supporting exercises in South Korea in the past, but Global Defender is an opportunity to leverage its resources in another part of the world. Maj. Tim Dwyer, a School of Advanced Military Studies planner in the command, said that’s important due to the command’s unique place in the Army.
“We’re the Army’s only theater CBRNE command,” Dwyer said. “We’re it; we can’t be focused on one specific area. We have to have a global expeditionary capability and mindset to be effective.”
Bartos said the problem sets in Korea and Europe are extremely different and require different approaches. In Korea, the command has performed as an elimination task force, ensuring potential hazards are found, fixed, and eliminated. In Europe, under the developing theater CBRNE command concept, the mission would be wider.
“The two theaters are distinctly different,” Bartos said. “In Europe, you’ve got multinational partners, the NATO alliance and requirements tied to that, a much larger theater, and political challenges. We’ve never operated as a theater CBRNE command in large-scale operations. What we’re doing here is a proof of concept of why the TCC is important and how it would operate.”
Headquartered on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, Soldiers and civilians from 20th CBRNE Command deploy from 19 bases in 16 states to take on the world’s most dangerous hazards in support of joint, interagency and allied military operations.
The 20th CBRNE Command is home to 75 percent of the active Army’s EOD technicians and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear specialists, as well as the 1st Area Medical Laboratory, the CBRNE Analytical and Remediation Activity, five weapons of mass destruction teams and three nuclear disablement teams.
The command travelled to Pennsylvania to allow staff members to focus on the critical tasks involved in its training – understanding the European theater and the systems used to track battles there; refining its tactical standard operating procedures; validating its mission essential tasks, battle drills, and templates; and conducting the military decision-making process, Bartos said.
“Coming to FIG was key,” he said. “At APG, it’s easy to get distracted with day-to-day business. It takes longer to get those sets and reps. We need a seasoned crew, which means time to understand the threat so we can start Global Defender with a shared awareness of the problem set and continue to build on our understanding.”
This CPX is just one step on that path, consisting of some of the 10,000 repetitions toward mastery, Bartos said.
“Our intent going forward is to have another CPX in the winter. We’ll set up tents and orient our systems as if we’re at Fort Hood,” he said. “It’s another chance to run through our objectives and battle drills. It’s one more in a series of milestones along the way.”
Dwyer said the work the staff is doing, and the repetitions they’re getting as a theater CBRNE command, are crucial to ensuring the 20th CBRNE Command is prepared to enable warfighter lethality anywhere.
“This expands on the capabilities we provide to the Army,” he said. “We have to be a ready force wherever we need to go.”