SAMS students assist SAG-U

By Prudence Siebert - Fort Leavenworth Lamp EditorFebruary 29, 2024

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1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Two groups of School of Advanced Military Studies students in the Advanced Military Studies Program recently travelled to Germany to assist Security Assistance Group-Ukraine. The second session group, seen here in February with Security Assistance Group-Ukraine Commander Lt. Gen. Antonio Aguto Jr., included Dr. Bruce Stanley, Col. Jamie LaValley, AMSP students Air Force Maj. Andrew Griffin, Maj. Sheila Holder, Maj. Sven Jenson, Maj. Christopher Kletzien, Marine Corps Maj. Brian Lander, Maj. William Lueck, Lt. Col. Joshua McAuliffe, Maj. Dana Messer, Marine Corps Maj. Aric Ramsey, Maj. Matthew Reilly and Maj. Christopher Speller. (Photo Credit: Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Cory Krassinger) VIEW ORIGINAL
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2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Two groups of School of Advanced Military Studies students in the Advanced Military Studies Program recently travelled to Germany to assist Security Assistance Group-Ukraine. The first session group supported the mission in December 2023, and included Dr. Jim Greer, Col. Jamie LaValley, AMSP students Air Force Lt. Col. James Corless, Maj. Shameek De Lancy, Maj. Blair Downey, Lt. Col. Joshua McAuliffe, Marine Corps Maj. Aric Ramsey, Maj. Timothy Reese, Space Force Maj. Moises Rendon, Maj. Joseph Tereniak and Maj. Dallas Wiggins. The groups of AMSP students and faculty were part of a larger team that included members from Combined Arms Center, the U.S. Air Force Curtis LeMay Center, National Defense University, the Army War College, the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab and 1st Special Force Command. (Photo Credit: Submitted photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

Two groups of School of Advanced Military Studies students in the Advanced Military Studies Program recently travelled to Wiesbaden, Germany, to assist Security Assistance Group-Ukraine as members of an operational planning team, where they were exposed to the complexity of the modern battlefield and worked on real-world problems.

A group of students joined a SAG-U team in December, and a second group followed on in February. This period marked the second-year anniversary of the Russian invasion and ongoing war in Ukraine.

AMSP student Maj. Sheila Holder, a member of the February group, said the two groups’ projects complemented each other and were part of a fairly continuous planning effort.

“We relied on a lot of what the previous team did, plus the expertise of the staff that’s already at SAG-U every day to inform what we were doing,” she said.

AMSP student Maj. Timothy Reese, a member of the December group, said the school prides itself on being able to support missions and work on complex problems with the aid of SAMS students and alumni. He said the SAMS support to SAG-U can be helpful in planning for future operational challenges and thinking of problems in different ways.

“I think for everybody, especially for the folks at SAG-U who are working unbelievably hard on (the problem), I think it is hard not to make it very personal very quickly,” Reese said. “You can’t read some of the things we have to read or see some of the things we have to see without feeling immensely for the Ukrainian people, in general, and especially for the Ukrainian military, as they are fighting a pretty terrible fight.”

Reese described the war in Ukraine as an especially hard fight, a complex problem that even the U.S. Army might struggle with in some ways. He noted that what is being done, by SAG-U and the Ukrainians, is impressive.

“There is a lot of internal pressure to do well and come up with something, even if it only helps a little bit,” he said. “It’s not bleak, because there are so many people who are feeling immensely pressured to do something that will help, and some of the things we are doing, I think, probably will.”

Reese said that if applied to a large-scale map, the situation would look like both sides have been holding and not advancing much, and that two key technology pieces are making the war more complicated for both sides.

“There are drones everywhere, which makes it impossible not to be seen, makes it very easy to target things, and it is very low cost, so both sides can keep doing it, kind of indefinitely,” he said. “Counter electronic warfare makes it very difficult for either side to communicate effectively, which makes it hard to coordinate large-scale operations.”

Reese said use of these technologies explains, in part, why neither side has seen much advancement since the first year of the war.

“When you are trying to advance — trying to take territories if you are the Russians, trying to liberate territories if you are the Ukrainians — having units moving large distances away from each other, at high rates of speed, and (then) if you can’t talk to each other, it very rapidly starts to break down the coordination you need to synergize effects, and so it is much easier for both sides to be defensive most places, most of the time.”

Holder, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, said the experience of working on the joint team allowed the SAMS students to see what the modern battlefield, with drones and electronic warfare, looks like.

“We really got the opportunity to see that first hand, and that informs us, so that we can bring that in to our next assignment, back to the force, what lessons we are learning from this war.”

The weeks the AMSP teams worked in Germany coincided with classroom exercises regularly conducted throughout the academic year at Fort Leavenworth, and allowed them to gain real-world experience.

“How would you pass up that opportunity? You can do it for pretend or you can go and help people who are doing it for real,” Reese said.

Reese, who deployed to Iraq in 2014 and 2015 and to Jordan in 2020, said that during the wars fought over the past 20 years, the United States has generally had advantages in the areas of technology and troop strength.

“This war is very, very different. Both sides have pretty comparable levels of technology, which complicates things a lot, (and) they are both enormous armies,” he said. “Our experiences have prepared us pretty well to think about these problems, but there are not very many people in the Army today who have actually dealt with them the way the Ukrainians are in real time.”

Reese said the operational tempo in Ukraine is a little bit slower during winter and that both sides need to reconstitute from recent losses. The spring, with frozen ground turning into muddy terrain, brings additional challenges.

“There is a deep part of the winter when the ground will freeze and things will be fairly good for operations, then that part of the world, kind of all of Eastern Europe, in the spring — the very tail of the winter to the start of the spring – it gets very, very muddy, so the ground basically thaws out, there is a lot of rain that time of year, it becomes very, very difficult to do maneuver operations, especially because the geography of Ukraine has a lot of flat steppe, and that just turns into mud and becomes very, very difficult to operate in,” he explained.

Holder said she appreciated the experience of working on a joint staff, which was a first for her, and the opportunity to travel outside of the academic setting to work on real-world problems.

“From my perspective, Fort Leavenworth can be kind of a bubble, you are in a very academic environment, and then when you go from here to somewhere … where they are working hard at a higher op tempo, the problems feel really real, and so that juxtaposition between here and there is a little difficult to adjust to,” she said. “Then you realize the magnitude of the problem that you are working on, and how Ukraine is fighting for their independence as a nation, and that is a complex problem.

“We were able to bring together a diverse set of experiences and diverse set of skills to work on some problems. What we’ve been working on in school is just expanding how we can think about problems and think outside of the box, so I think that is really why we were brought in, to do that.”

The School of Advanced Military Studies, as stated on Army University’s website, “educates select armed forces, interagency and allied members to become critical and creative thinkers, agile and adaptive leaders, and skilled practitioners in doctrine and operational art. The goal of SAMS is to enable senior leaders to drive the operations process to achieve favorable strategic, operational and tactical outcomes. The Advanced Military Studies Program is a graduate-level education program intended to develop effective planners who engage and enable senior leaders understanding of the operational environment further enabling them to visualize and describe viable solutions to complex operational problems.”