When Fort Leavenworth's Mission Command Training Program supports a unit's warfighter exercise, it takes more than just a few phone calls to get the job done.

MCTP's Operations Groups Bravo and Foxtrot recently joined efforts to assist the 1st Brigade Combat Team and 212th Fires Brigade, 1st Armored Division, hone their warfighting skills during a two-week exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas, Sept. 8-22.

Planning and supporting a brigade-level exercise of this magnitude is challenging and starts far in advance of the actual exercise.

"It takes months and sometimes several years to coordinate these types of exercises," said Lt. Col. Tony Nichols, the deputy commander of Operations Groups Bravo. "In this instance, 1st BCT was identified almost two years ago as the brigade to be trained."

The 212th Fires Brigade joined the exercise less than six weeks before it started. Col. Matt Anderson, Operations Group Foxtrot commander, said it was a great opportunity to showcase MCTP's adaptability and agility.

"It normally takes about nine months to plan support for this type of unit in this type of exercise. We worked with 1st (Armored Division) and Operations Group Bravo to ensure that the 212th FiB portion of the exercise was executable," Anderson explained.

To help prepare for this exercise, personnel from Operations Group Bravo met with the planning and primary staff of 1st BCT about a year prior to the exercise's start.

"This process starts with several planning conferences," said Lt. Col. Brandon Reeves, Operations Group Bravo's fires warfighting function chief. "The goal of these conferences is to confirm dates and locations, to coordinate logistical support and to synchronize the storylines that will ultimately stimulate the training objectives of the units, which come from the unit's commander and are the primary drivers of the exercise construct."

The unit then approves the scenario ranging from combined arms maneuver to security operations.
"They may elect a hybrid construct which incorporates both combined arms maneuver and wide area security operations to achieve their objectives," Reeves added.

At that point, a site survey is conducted to determine the suitability of the exercise site ensuring it has the specific power, space and life support requirements to host the exercise.

Lastly, they come to a common agreement with the training unit on the brigade commander's training objectives and the manning requirements for the exercise.

"This was 1st BCT's last major training event prior to deployment, so we were focused on helping the commander identify and train his staff on those critical tasks that will give them success in Afghanistan," said Col. Thomas Christensen, Operations Group Bravo commander.

The exercise coincided with the unit's recent deployment to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., and allowed them to refine and further develop skills they honed during that training. The unit elected a scenario that could potentially mirror the operational environment during their deployment to Afghanistan.

"The 212th (Fires Brigade) stood up about nine months ago and they also had a newly formed staff, so the focus for this unit was on learning and understanding mission command, the operational process and how to integrate as a staff," said Lt. Col. Thomas Haeurwas, Operations Group Foxtrot's chief of training.

Many other factors are considered once the "flavor" of the operational environment has been set. Within each operations group are separate teams that ensure these factors are a part of the training environment.

"Operations Group Bravo worked hard with us to adapt to the addition of the (fires brigade) into their already existing exercise, they provided us an opposing forces team and incorporated an exercise control team, a part of the Contemporary Operational Environment Operations Group, into their exercise," Anderson said.

The exercise control and opposing forces teams contain the resources to add the needed realism to the exercise. These teams simulate what the unit may encounter during the scenario-driven operations. It is not uncommon to see role players dressed in the garb of the notional nation interacting with members of the unit through Soldier/Leader Engagements or reporters questioning key leaders from the training unit during press conferences.

The addition of the 212th Fires Brigade to the exercise presented some challenges, but the operations groups combined efforts so they could support the units simultaneously.
At the mid-way point and at the conclusion of the exercise, Operations Groups Bravo and Foxtrot provided the units with an after-action review. These reviews are a critical tool in maintaining or improving the units' future performance and is also a way for the operations groups to improve their observer, coach/trainer skills.