News: Focused training based on experience prepares EOD units for upcoming deployment
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Members of the 71st Ordnance Group recently faced injuries, explosions, deaths, electrocutions and other essentially unfavorable circumstances. Luckily the problems were only scenarios staff dealt with during a four-day mission readiness exercise in April at Fort Carson, Colo., to help prepare them for a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.
As events poured in from evaluators via computers on day one, the newest member of the “Raptor” team, 2nd Lt. Alicia Tigges, not only grappled with who was in charge of what at her first duty station, but also a new job. Arriving at the unit 18 days earlier, Tigges, who will work as a movement control officer coordinating air movement of personnel while deployed, began learning her job during the exercise, receiving tasks, assigning them numbers, then sending them to the appropriate shop or battalion for action.
“I don’t speak the language yet so it’s good for me to be in this position and learn,” the 23 year old said, referring to the unit’s explosive ordnance disposal mission that’s peppered with massive amounts of acronyms used frequently by military units. Tigges said she liked the hurried pace of the scenario inputs and was glad to learn more about her unit’s operations.
Several buildings away sat members from the 20th Support Command (CBRNE), the 71st’s higher headquarters based at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. Causing havoc behind the scenes were members of the “white cell” armed with lists of inputs, submitting scenarios based on previous real-world situations during prescribed timelines. At one point an actual situation presented itself before evaluators could submit a nearly identical scenario planned for hours later.
“E-mail services went out in the morning and I’m told that was an inject for later today. That forced us to use a different program, Sharepoint, and phones to coordinate actions,” said Spec. Nicholas Hazen, the senior local area network manager. E-mail was the preferred method to disseminate information but instead the unit went through the Internet.
As a member of the 71st for more than three years, when the form of communication changed, the 26-year-old dealt with the speed bump by helping soldiers upload and share documents, teaching them how to use basic computer functions of the new internal network system, and assisting with passwords and logins.
Dave Iverson, a contractor with the 20th Spt. (CBRNE), tracked more than 300 scenarios during the four day exercise. As part of the crew that staged the exercise, he joined representatives from the Department of State, Navy, National Guard Intelligence Center and other agencies in the white cell as well as primary organizer, Ron Green, from the headquarters training section in an exercise that differed from previous ones.
While most units plug into a Unified Endeavor exercise, which is a program that culminates with a simulation driven computer-aided event that a battle and training program runs, the 20th Spt. (CBRNE) coordinated, designed, constructed and resourced the exercise themselves, specifically building it to meet their subordinate unit’s objectives.
“Ours is very focused on the counter improvised explosive device effort within Afghanistan,” Green said. “We’re focused on this unit’s roles, mission and responsibilities in Afghanistan. When we plug in [as part of other exercises] the 71st wouldn’t have been the main focus, so it’s more challenging to meet the commander’s training objectives doing it this way.”
Green and his team began preparing for the exercise eight months earlier with planning conferences, creating training objectives and requirements, crafting timelines and more but he said the most time consuming prep was writing the scenarios “to ensure they stimulate the training audience to meet the training objectives.”
Lt. Col. Fred Corcoran, a 20th Spt. (CBRNE) force management officer and white cell leader further defined their goal.
“Our number one goal of this exercise is to affect the fight making sure the 71st hits the ground, ready to fight,” Corcoran said. “Down range you don’t have a lot of time to get your processes correct,” Green agreed.
With this fact in mind, scenarios were based on research and real world situations that happened at deployed locations. Scenarios were sent to the unit they’ll replace for review and input to ensure they weren’t too “out of the box.”
Back at the exercise in another section of the room, intelligence specialists examined products produced in Afghanistan, discussed what triggers their production and went through how and who to talk to in order to resource assets. Assisting the intelligence operators from the 71st was a current member of Task Force Paladin, a specialized bomb-hunting unit the 71st will become a part of this summer. Capt. Rick McGuire, the intelligence officer in charge from the 52nd EOD Group, Fort Campbell, Ky., along with a couple of other soldiers, returned temporarily from Afghanistan to provide technical expertise during the MRX. One of the areas McGuire covered was BOLOs, or “be on the lookout for” reports.
“Unclassified reports with releasable biometric evidence are important because they allow us to share with our Afghan partners,” he explained to the earnest listeners. “They include a photo, summary of the event they’re biometrically matched to and all information we have like their tribe or village they’re from. We push them out to coalition battle space owners to try to get a national arrest warrant to help with focusing and targeting on IED makers. It’s a simple matter of sharing information with the right people and it’s paying off,” said McGuire, 28.
Chief Warrant Officer Luis Urbina, a human resources technician with the 71st thought sending people from the unit they’ll replace was beneficial. He said the soldier he’ll replace provided his section with copies of policy letters and standard operating procedures currently being used downrange which he said helped with the exercise.
“She gave us scenarios they’ve had to deal with and was able to answer questions we had,” said Urbina who recently went to their deployment area during a site survey that he said helped them decide how they want to set up when they arrive, figure out personnel roles and what equipment they’ll need.
During day two of the exercise, Urbina and his section had already dealt with scenarios involving battle and non-battle casualties, Red Cross emergency messages, postal operations, release of a pregnant soldier downrange and assembling personnel status reports.
Members of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 12, based at Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Va., a subordinate unit to the 71st, also trained during the MRX, practicing integration and testing their staff planning processes. EODMU-12's operators will be called upon to neutralize IEDs, conventional ordnance hazards, and weapons of mass destruction in Afghanistan.
“They’re doing outstanding,” said Lt. Jennifer Borstelmann, training officer. “They’re stimulating the 71st staff and making them think of things they wouldn’t have thought of if the 12 wasn’t here.”
Army organizations often align a unit with a “gray beard,” an affectionate term used for a retired senior official with vast knowledge in their field. Not yet gray or bearded, the expert assisting 71st Ordnance Group (EOD) leadership during this exercise was retired Col. Kevin Lutz, a previous commander with ample expertise in EOD, counter-IED, operations and weapons technical intelligence. Currently a group president of an intelligence related company, Lutz coached and mentored the unit’s senior leaders on the difficulties and challenges in situations they’ll find themselves in while deployed.
“This is world class,” he said of the exercise. “It’s got some room for improvement, but it’s world class.”
Date Posted:05.10.2011 15:36
Location:ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, MD, US
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