BUTLERVILLE, Ind. – For almost two years, the Tennessee Army National Guard’s 117th Military Police Battalion and the Wolf Operations Group from the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex have been planning an annual training period that would be unlike anything the battalion had been through before. All of the planning came to fruition as the Tennessee battalion traveled to the southern Indiana facility to train in urban operations, June 6 – 17.
The event tested the organizational and training skills of Wolf Ops since this was the first time a battalion-sized element came to Muscatatuck to train together. It was decided early on in the planning process to scrap “training lanes,” the traditional approach to training used by the Army. Under this training system, military units complete one lane of training (search and recovery, hostage rescue, house clearing, etc) and then stop to get feedback from Observer Controller Trainers.
Lt. Col. Barry Crum, the commander of the 117th MP Battalion, had very specific training requirements in mind prior to setting foot on Muscatatuck.
“The primary mission for my staff was to get staff training in a TOC (Tactical Operations Center) environment,” Crum explained. “My two line companies were to train on battalion-oriented operations with the battalion TOC tasking missions to them in a field environment.”
The exercise, named “Operation Cassius,” took place in the fictional city of Ganja. Instead of being forced to train in a fake city block made up of three or four cinder block buildings as at many military operations on urban terrain sites, all of MUTC represented the city and one operation fed into the next, according to Capt. Elias Donker, lead planner on the exercise for Wolf Ops.
“We made a spider web diagram and dropped the unit in the middle where every success or missed opportunity they had affected their next engagement, information operation, or firefight,” Donker said. “We thought about almost every possible permutation of what could happen in Operation Cassius, and had different signal, human, and physical intelligence to feed back to them based on their decisions and execution of their missions.”
One such piece of physical intelligence was a deserted cell phone left in a spot the MPs were checking, as if it had been left behind by the insurgents they were searching for. If the MPs had not processed it correctly, valuable time and actionable intelligence could have been wasted. Because the soldiers did the right thing and gave the phone to the right people, intelligence was able to be gleaned from the cell phone and a target was identified.
This attention to detail allowed the exercise members of the 117th MP Battalion to perform jobs they had never done before -- especially when curve balls were thrown their way.
One feature of MUTC is the ability for more than one training group to come together for a larger exercise in an instant, and this is exactly what happened twice to the 117th MPs.
During the first week prior to the 117th’s field exercise, several members of the unit were invited to take part in the Ministry of Defense advisors training which was going on simultaneously. Eight members of the 117th were given an advanced course in being a security detachment for higher level civilian governmental employees deploying to Afghanistan to work with the Ministries of Defense and Interior. This training was only made available because training elements at Muscatatuck worked together for the betterment of all training.
As the three days of the full-immersion field exercise drew closer, Wolf Ops saw another training opportunity – a joint Army and Marine exercise. The United States Marine Kilo Company came to MUTC to hold their own training, and Wolf Ops was able to bring the two elements – the 117th and Marines – together for a training exercise that would be more realistic than having them train separately. This reinforced the need to communicate not just across companies but across military services on a regular basis.
Nearly 30 of the soldiers from the MP battalion were also put into action as role-playing insurgents during the exercise, but they weren’t just turned loose and told to attack the military forces haphazardly. Wolf Ops trained them on just how to do that.
“Wolf Operations created an immersive [opposing force] academy. Wolf Ops non-commissioned officers led Small Unit Tactics, insurgent theory, and culture classes to make the soldiers assigned to OPFOR aware not only of where to attack the training unit, but to do it in a manner that realistically replicated insurgent tactics, techniques, and procedures and capabilities,” Donker said. “This provided a double-win; the 117th MPs faced a realistic sparring partner that could give them effective training, and it resulted in a train-the-trainer effect where the 117th now has 28 soldiers who have been to an insurgent subject matter expert experience. They will be able to help their unit train for years to come.”
The 117th was fully immersed in a training environment which replicated a city under siege by insurgents and quickly learned the plan they entered the training with was not going to work. The information piece – retrieving, analyzing, and dissemination that information to the people who needed it – became more important than anything else they did. This included getting the word out to the mock local citizens via flyer and the Ganjan radio station.
“Ten units could come through MUTC and run Operation Cassius, and probably have ten different scenarios,” Donker said. “The MPs did a good job and concluded by rescuing the role-play civilian doctor that was kidnapped from a public rally day one of the exercise.”
Crum agreed. “Overall, my training objectives were absolutely met,” Crum said. “My staff, many members inexperienced, got an opportunity to conduct battalion-level operations. We’ve got personnel moves, we’ve got a lot of new commanders and new staff positions and those folks certainly got an opportunity to learn, to exercise, to operate in a battalion-level TOC. All the Tennessee soldiers that I had talked to were very satisfied and felt that they exceeded their training objectives by training here. Overall, it was very successful.”
According to Crum, Maj. Gen. Terry M. Haston, Adjutant General of the Tennessee National Guard, was very impressed by MUTC when he visited his soldiers during the exercise and is looking at the potential of other Tennessee units training at the facility in the future.
“The training environment, the training conditions here at Muscatatuck are excellent,” Crum said. “I have conducted MOUT training at other places and this is, far and away, better than the facilities anybody else has.”
Donker attributes the success of missions that Wolf Ops runs to the facility and the different way that training is allowed to be conducted.
“We couldn't do this anywhere else. Anywhere else, we couldn't just walk up to a group from another military branch and coordinate training on the fly,” he said. “Even though it's a lot of work for them to manage, it pays off when we can do things like a joint TNARNG/ USMC(R) operation that gives over 600 service members an annual training experience they will never forget with real-world-applicable lessons that will enable victory and save their lives downrange.”
“That's why we're here -- to bring the real war (experience) to a training environment and win it one battalion, one platoon, and one squad at a time,” added Donker.