Stryker Brigades Train for Upcoming Deployment
The first Stryker brigade is preparing to put boots on the ground again next summer. At Fort Lewis, Wash., where the brigade is based, soldiers have access to several training facilities and technologies that fuse intelligence from the theater directly into their training.
“What we’re trying to do, in near real-time, is take lessons learned from what’s going on in Mosul everyday, and crank it back into the training we’re doing here,” said Bobby Jolley, director of the Battle Command Training Center on post.
When the first Stryker brigade, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, was on the ground in Iraq in late 2003, those involved in training the second Stryker brigade—the Fort Lewis-based 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division—realized they had a resource in the battlefield that they could tap. An operations center was established in the mission support training facility (MSTF) to keep in daily contact with the 3/2.
“We had commanders—senior commissioned officers, sergeant majors, battalion sergeants, majors—from the unit here, that was going over there, talking by video teleconference out of our operations center on a daily basis,” said Jolley.
In a sense, the commanders were participating in a type of training that the Army calls “right-seat rides” from around the globe through the Jacobsen Operations Center, which was named for a Stryker soldier who died in Iraq.
Units from the 1/25 would walk into MSTF and train on missions that the 3/2 was actually conducting on the ground.
“We could go in there, and we could find out what was going on, on the ground—here are the operations that they’re doing. We could read their after-action reports or their operations orders. We were able to take real-world intelligence, all the maps, everything for the area that we were going into and actually work through that process,” said Maj. Nicholas Mullen, rear detachment commander of the 1/25. “The training was all at the secret level, so we were using what we would use there. And it got us into that mindset of, okay, this is where we are going.”
All of that training paid off when the second Stryker brigade deployed to relieve the first brigade.
“The second brigade, when they got there, because of the right-seat rides and because of the up-to-date training that they had, became fully combat-ready in a much shorter period of time,” said Jolley.
“That totally led to our success,” said Mullen.
When in theater, the second Stryker brigade found it could benefit from the daily contact with the MSTF. Commanders could “reach back” for resources not readily available on the battlefield.
The 1/25, for example, had a suspect in custody, but wanted additional intelligence on some of his operations, said Jolley. The commander requested assistance from the people in the center.
“And these guys here fingered him in a few hours. And therefore, the brigade kept this guy in custody and was able to reach out and get some of the other figures around him,” said Jolley.
“I’m very comfortable, when I go into theater, that I can pick up the phone, or I can send an e-mail back to the people at MSTF and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this operation, and I’d like you to run a couple of courses of action in a war game and tell me how they come out,’ ” said Col. Steven Townsend, commander of 3/2.
As it trains up for deployment, 3/2 finds itself on the receiving end of things at the training centers.
“What we’ve been able to do since we came back is go back and use MSTF,” said Maj. Doug Baker, executive officer of the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment. His battalion is able to attain pertinent mission information from the brigade on the ground, in this case, from 1/25.
“We get that order, their graphics, their mission and go through the planning process and then have the company commanders and the platoon leaders fight those fights in simulated 3-D.”
The brigade’s military intelligence company has ensconced itself inside the Jacobsen Operations Center since it returned. Everyday, it works on the classified systems, pulling intelligence from 1/25 and building it for the brigade to use when it returns to Iraq, he said.
In late August, two Strykers and a tactical operations center are parked outside on the MSTF pad and plugged into system. Soldiers from the 1-23 infantry stand in a circle, taking a break from the training.
“These guys love to come here,” said Matt McCarthy, the Science Applications International Corp. program manager at MSTF. SAIC runs the facility.
Inside one of the many spacious rooms at the new $23 million battle command training center, adjacent to the MSTF on post, eight simulators—each composed of several touch-screen monitors, a steering wheel and a joystick—sit upon tables arranged in a large, C-shaped pod. With these virtual vehicle systems, soldiers learn how to navigate the eight-wheeled, 19-ton Stryker, to use its weapons systems and to use the commander technologies on board.
Tanks have full-immersion simulators, said William Belue, training simulations team chief within the training integration branch at the center. But “there is no such thing for the Stryker,” he said. To get a similar sort of immersion experience, soldiers can mount one of the $100,000 simulators inside a mock-up of the Stryker vehicle and use that for training, perhaps in conjunction with a firearms simulation exercise in one of the engagement skills training sites located on post, he said.
Once soldiers have gained the basic skills on the Stryker, their unit commanders can walk into the center and set up virtual training exercises, said Belue. The simulations team will design scenarios from scratch, based upon each unit’s needs.
Depending on the scenario and the desired quality of virtual environment, it can take the team anywhere between a few days to several months to craft a simulation, he said.
The system these designers use most is the joint conflict and tactical simulations, or JCATS, said Jolley.
“What JCATS gives you is entity-level resolution, which means the individual soldier, the individual Stryker vehicle, is modeled in the simulation,” said Lt. Col. Mark Edgren, chief of the mission support training facility. “It allows [soldiers] to really optimize their training for a full-up battlefield condition.”
The designers incorporate vignettes based upon situations that units have encountered in Iraq into JCATS to give soldiers applicable training for deployment.
“There are situations that occur over and over—going on patrol, clearing convoy routes. We apply the existing simulations to them,” said Jolley.
“We created scenarios, where the young corporal was being told: You’re standing on a corner. It’s two o’clock in the morning. You’re running a checkpoint. There are two cars screaming around the corner, coming at you. What do you do now? And by the way, the CNN camera is running over there,” said Col. Mike Peppers, director of the G37 Division at Fort Lewis, which is responsible for training, readiness, force management, strategic change and initiatives and analysis.
Soldiers are also taught how to handle duties three levels above their own so that “platoon leaders can step up and become company commanders,” said Capt. Teddy Kleisner, company commander for Bravo 1-23.
“We try to place our leaders in very uncertain situations. We continually throw curve balls at them, so what they find on the battlefield is not exactly what they were told they would find on the battlefield. They have to be able to react flexibly to what they actually find,” said Townsend.
Behind the battle command training center lies a forest where units can take their green tents, vehicles and computers, set up a tactical operations center and plug into the center’s fixed tactical internet and run simulations, said Edgren.
Between the two training facilities stands a tall communications tower that enables the fixed tactical internet.
“That gives us a capability so that the Stryker unit can train in the simulation center. They can train on the pad outside there and that’s just plug and play because we have the tactical interface points outside the building,” said Jolley. “Or they can be in the training area, here at Fort Lewis. They can be in the training center at [nearby] Yakima. Or for that matter, they can be across the world.”
Part of the challenge of having a digitally-enabled force like the Stryker brigade is that the retraining requirements for the soldiers is greatly increased, said Jolley.
“Every week or two, there’s a new course that starts covering all of the ABCS, Army Battle Command Systems, to train not only the new soldiers coming in, but the new officers and NCOs that are reassigned,” said Jolley. “That’s a departure from Army doctrine, because individual training is typically done in the training centers by the Training and Doctrine Command. Our experience here is that that really doesn’t do the job,” he said. Some soldiers come in with digital training; some don’t, he explained.
In the case of the first Stryker brigade, the soldiers came from various backgrounds, a mix of heavy and light units. But they all needed to learn how to negotiate the Stryker’s communications systems.
“We had to go to something called “digital university” on North Fort,” said Jeffrey Du, brigade command sergeant major for 3/2, as he surveyed soldiers from brigade’s three battalions out on a field competing for the Expert Infantry Badge.
While digital training is obviously a necessity for the Stryker brigade, maintaining infantryman training is also key.
“We have tried to get back to basics, and not have everything Iraq-focused, because even though we are slotted to go back next year, we could end up anywhere,” said Baker.
The brigade’s training focus has been on the individual soldier from the start.
“Every soldier is trained as a potential leader. There are no followers in Stryker Brigade,” said Lt. Gen. James Dubik, commanding general of I Corps and Fort Lewis.