JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – On a parade field outside of brigade headquarters is a fully functional tactical operating center. TOCs are usually set up in field or deployment environments, but this one was set up close to home for a very specific mission.
Soldiers with 17th Fires Brigade conducted digital systems sustainment training, Jan. 14 through Jan. 17, to refine their standard operating procedures and define how they operate in the future.
A complete set of standard operating procedures, or SOP, was developed by soldiers with 17th Fires Bde. for use in field training exercises and deployments. A good SOP will have a course of action for almost every situation that can occur during a mission, whether it be something as routine as setting up communications, or something potentially unexpected like responding to enemy fire, said Sgt. Juan Carrion, an electronic warfare noncommissioned officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 17th Fires Bde.
In order to find out how effective the new SOP is, leaders with 17th Fires Bde. created a test mission using a pre-existing training scenario and TOC that could be set up quickly within the brigade footprint, Carrion said.
The key factor in producing results from the exercise was due to a tremendous amount of unit cohesion that developed teamwork between all ranks, Carrion said.
“[This mission] requires a good amount of manpower, requires the coordination of all the leaders, requires the direct input of all the subordinates,” Carrion said. “It’s all the peers coming together at once, and then taking a step back to get a good look at it and seeing how we can better configure this thing in the future to optimize our operation.”
Inside the TOC, each section had their own systems and their own piece of the puzzle that produced something bigger, Carrion said.
“Everything is interconnected via the network. One shop has to talk to the other, and on the operations floor is where it all comes together,” Carrion said. “That’s where all the shops, all the individual sections, all the very small teams come together as they continue to work operations in one confined space.”
In addition to local operations, communications systems were stressed and tested through long distance contact with soldiers from 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Bde., that were conducting operations at the Umatilla Army Depot in Oregon as part of the scenario.
“This allows us to establish communications with partners that are close by and those that are out far,” Carrion said.
By doing so, the brigade can fully test the effective use of their SOP and work as a team on a larger scale.
“That’s the same every time we do this. Every time we come together it’s always a large team building exercise,” Carrion said.
Just as with every mission, the unit was fighting toward a successful outcome. What made this mission odd is that its intended purpose was to encounter as many problems as possible so that each section could tweak part of the SOP in order to fix it for future operations.
According to Spc. Matthew Kiepert, a brigade helpdesk operator with HHB, 17th Fires Bde., having those problems now and annotating how to fix them in the SOP will create a stronger and smarter unit.
“Just in case you are out in the field or deployed and something does go wrong, you’ve already dealt with how to fix it in the past, so getting over those issues is a whole lot easier and not as time consuming and stressful as they would be if you’d never encountered them,” Kiepert said.
Kiepert belongs to the battery’s communications section, which is responsible for establishing all communication devices the brigade uses to talk to each other and other units.
“Without [our section, the brigade] has no internet, no communication. So, without us they’re not able to do anything except sit there and look at [monitors],” Kiepert said.
His section is an example of how one piece of the puzzle is necessary to form the entire picture of an effective team. Because of that, Kiepert understood the need to write down every problem he encountered that the SOP didn’t currently cover.
“In the long run, it’s going to teach us quite a bit, it’s going to tell us what to do better next time,” Kiepert said.
Kiepert’s mindset to work as part of a team was a common theme among the “Thunderbolt” soldiers. With a team-based mindset like that, the unit was able to come together and refine their SOP for use in future situations, Carrion said.
“In future missions we can have this [SOP] completely done, corrected and tried-and-true for every time we do operations,” he said. “If it’s successful, and if we do it this way every time, it’s always going to be successful.”