FORT CARSON, Colo. – Soldiers reacted rapidly to incoming reports and rushed between staff sections to make the division's mission run smoothly despite obstacles tossed in their way during a mission rehearsal exercise, March 20-29. Known as "Unified Endeavor 13-2," the exercise held at the 4th Infantry Division Headquarters, was designed to help the division staff prepare for an upcoming deployment.
The exercise was intended to create the illusion for its participants that they are in their future area of operations, and tasked to complete the series of scenarios as they appear in as little time as possible, said Lt. Col. Jack Chaffin, deputy plans and operations officer, 4th Inf. Div.
"Just like a brigade that goes to the National Training Center (at Fort Irwin, Calif.) for their culminating event to become stamped ready for combat, a division headquarters does an MRX in preparation for its deployment," said Chaffin.
"The nature of division is such that we don't need to maneuver through the desert at the National Training Center, we need to practice staff processes and systems; how do we communicate, coordinate and receive guidance, how do we transmit that to subordinate units in orders; all the things you have to do in any given day to make things run in a division area of operation," said Chaffin. "That's kind of the overarching task and purpose behind what we're doing."
Trained and experienced leaders, made up of Soldiers and civilians from various installations and known as the white cell for the exercise, came to Fort Carson to assist the division by presenting real-world scenarios from past and current operations for the staff to work through and solve.
"We put the deploying unit through what they will encounter while deployed; everything from weather, culture interaction and enemy interaction," said Col. John Valledor, co-exercise controller for UE 13-2, Mission Command Training Program, Fort Leavenworth, Kan. "We only inject what coincides with the commander's training directives to ensure successful training."
Valledor said the goal was to create experiences to help deploying Soldiers develop the skills they will need to be successful. "The endgame is to prepare Soldiers to achieve the mission when they deploy and get them familiar with the duties they'll perform downrange," said Valledor. "Our measure of success comes from the commander's training objective; the commanding general is the actual trainer, we're supporters who help achieve the training objective." To make the training more realistic, teams in the white cell made trips to Afghanistan and other areas of current operations to talk to leaders downrange to find out what they need to do to give the training unit a workout, said Valledor.
In addition to the more than 20 units that made up the white cell, other teams supported the division to make the training successful.
"Throughout this entire process, you've got the observer/trainer teams who are evaluating, assessing and working with the staff sections; so they're taking notes, comparing notes, and about halfway through the exercise, we'll stop and there will be a mid-after action review," said Chaffin. "That's the first direct feedback the division commander's going to get from the observer/trainers, and more importantly, it provides the division commander an opportunity to give guidance to his staff."
Personnel known as scripters were tasked to replicate the operational environment; they wrote down notes to turn them into a script, which were then coded and turned into scenarios for each day.
"You've got the guys who actually run the simulation that provides the fake data that feels as real as it can, the guys who are assessing, evaluating and helping the unit see itself," said Chaffin. "We also have a variety of response cells, which act as virtual or mock subordinate or higher units, giving us the friendly forces feed, like what our brigades are doing or what higher is telling us to do."
To set up the MRX and to keep it operational, division and network engineers revamped the old commissary building on Fort Carson to house supporting units. They also planned and worked throughout the exercise to keep communications running and to make sure physical needs such as electricity, workspaces and heating were working.
"We ended up with a pretty large plan; generally when these exercises are done, there's a mission training complex that's already been created and established, and it's where they house the exercise control personnel, all the people outside who come here to help us run the exercise," said Capt. Matt Hicks, network engineer, 4th Inf. Div.
"Because we didn't have the complex, we had to do a lot of construction, buildup and infrastructure ourselves, which led to us installing about 70 switches, numerous routers, 13 miles of cable and at least 200 of our own computer systems. In the end, we had about 1,500 people coming and converging at both the commissary and the digital training campus."
As the MRX pressed on, time between scenarios shortened, and the intensity increased each passing day.
"One of the things that tend to happen in an MRX is that the operation tempo is much higher than your everyday experience in a deployed environment, it's very fast paced," said Chaffin. "One of our jokes is imagining the worst week in a future area of operation, and that's what we try to replicate during the MRX. We want to emphasize friction, the chaos, the difficulty, challenge and tempo, because that will make a Soldier better able to perform down the road."
Chaffin said one of the main objectives of the intense training environment is to ensure the Soldiers are fully prepared to go downrange and that they can handle whatever is thrown at them.
"The commanding general said early on that we don't want to build bad muscle memory," said Chaffin. "The best way to train the basic (Soldiering skills) is repetition, and if you can do it under a degree of stress, it's that much more effective. The real idea is to make the training harder than a deployment is ever going to be, because if we can handle this, then we know we've got the deployment locked in."
FORT CARSON, Colo. - Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera, commanding general, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson, presents the Army Commendation Medal to Lt. Col. Jack Chaffin, deputy plans and operations officer, 4th Inf. Div., during an award ceremony at the division headquarters building, to recognize Soldiers for their hard work during the Mission Rehearsal Exercise, March 29, 2013
FORT CARSON, Colo. - Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera, commanding general, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson, presents the Army Commendation Medal to Capt. Matt Hicks, network engineer, 4th Inf. Div., during an award ceremony at the division headquarters building, to recognize Soldiers for their hard work during the Mission Rehearsal Exercise, March 29, 2013