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Maneuver Captains Course incorporate leaders decision exercise.

In March, selected students attending the Maneuver Captains Career Course (MCCC) at Fort Benning, Ga., participated in the pilot of a dynamic new development for the instruction of Infantry and Armor captains--the leaders decision exercise (LDX). During the LDX, MCCC students execute a company-level operation order (OPORD) in a 3D virtual environment using the Army Program of Record (PoR) Virtual Battlespace 2 (VBS2). Because the MCCC's mission is to train captains in the art and science of combined arms mission command in full spectrum operations, a blended learning approach incorporating the LDX prepares them for the rigors of command in combat.

"This new element we've added to the MCCC allows us to give our captains more meaningful, comprehensive feedback on their performance in a blended learning environment," said LTC Louis Zeisman, director of the Maneuver Center of Excellence's (MCoE) Directorate of Training (DOT). "This means that when they leave here to go command companies, they will have at least seen complex combat situations and handled and commanded modern combined arms assets in the virtual world."

VBS2 is a simulation-based training engine designed by Bohemia Interactive Studio and is based around the "first-person shooter" video game model. The students are doing much more than just playing video games, however. The VBS2 system was initially designed in support of the Joint Training Counter-IED Operations Integration Center (JTCOIC) to train individual Soldiers; however, LTC Zeisman and MAJ Greg Curry, the deputy chief of tactics for DOT and project lead, saw much greater potential for VBS2. With small improvements, the system had meaningful applications that could be used for training leaders in complex and fluid mission command situations. Working in concert with JTCOIC for nearly a year, DOT cadre transformed the basic VBS2 system into a simulation engine that helps prospective company commanders practice making combat decisions in real time.

In the scenario the MCCC uses, the systems' developers have built geo-specific terrain from downtown Columbus, Ga., into the virtual environment. This is done so that MCCC students have an opportunity to walk the actual ground as they plan their order. They then write their OPORDs and prepare for their LDX training iterations. The students then report to a technologically advanced computer lab that has stations for the company commander, each platoon leader, enablers (which could be allied or indigenous forces, attack aviation, artillery, and others), the opposition forces commander, and the administrative "white cell." Each computer workstation features a monitor and control system for VBS2; a Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) terminal; and a Ventrilo-equipped headphone set.

"The inclusion of some of the Army's latest mission command systems into the VBS2 suite was essential; it means that each LDX training iteration closely replicates a company commander's actual command and control capabilities," said LTC Zeisman.


There is also a very deliberate and extensive preparation process for students. Before participating in the LDX, student seminars not only conduct a tactical exercise without troops (TEWT) in downtown Columbus, but MCCC students also participate in one or two tactical decision exercises as well as classes covering urban terrain analysis, the history of insurgency, asymmetric intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB), the targeting process, the task organization and capabilities of a Stryker brigade combat team, and tactical considerations for urban operations. After all of this training, MCCC students then write an OPORD for a Stryker Infantry company attack in an urban environment and brief it to their small group leaders (SGLs) and four lieutenants from the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course (I-BOLC) role-playing as platoon leaders. Once the SGL approves the OPORD and conducts an after action review (AAR), the MCCC and I-BOLC students conduct rehearsals before they participate in the LDX.

Students currently conduct LDX iterations one seminar at a lime. Future classes will execute this training in multiple concurrent iterations at Fort Benning's Warrior Simulation Center. Each student plays a role (platoon leader, company fire support officer, etc.) after the designated company commander briefs his OPORD. Training iterations last about 75 minutes in the simulated environment but also include an organized, instructor-led AAR. During the event, because the company commander can only see a small, first-person view of the battlefield, subordinates must report constantly to the commander while he coordinates fires, attack aviation, unmanned aerial vehicles and other enablers, and also reports to his higher headquarters--a role played by his SGL. This immersive environment forces the commander to deliberately position himself on the battlefield, rely on his subordinates to accomplish assigned tasks without direct oversight, and manage a broad scope of information and reporting requirements.

One element that makes the LDX an improvement over other simulation exercises is that the opposing forces (OPFOR) are controlled by people. If the company commander is having difficulty because of inexperience or some other factor, the LDX scenario can be adjusted; cadre can instruct the OPFOR to be less aggressive, restrict OPFOR resources, and other similar impacts. Conversely, if the company commander has the experience of several repetitions and is a more capable commander, the cadre can reinforce the OPFOR and direct them to act in a way that will force a major alteration of the commander's plan. The sort of quick thinking and battlefield understanding a captain gets when exposed to those obstacles, even if it's in a simulated environment, allows for rapid leader development.

To further enhance the broad scope and great value of the LDX, once the AAR is complete and the company commander emerges from the simulations experience, he is greeted by a media role-player: Joanie Horton, a MCCC Communicative Skills instructor who has taught career course captains at Fort Benning for the last 26 years. "Placing the officer in a position to have to answer tough questions about the operation he just completed added another level of complexity to the exercise," she said. Her interview questions and techniques varied from iteration to iteration based on how the event was conducted and what lessons the cadre were trying to ensure were learned. After the interview, the students' performances were evaluated by their cadre and peers. The unifying purpose remained the use of technology and an immersive environment to have MCCC students execute the OPORDs they write.

After only a handful of training iterations, the tremendous value of the LDX was immediately apparent to both MCCC students and the school's seasoned cadre. "The greatest advantage of using VBS2 as a command training tool here at the MCCC is that it teaches our captains battlefield patience and the importance of a commander's tactical awareness in a way that we just can't replicate in other ways." observed MAJ Jason Pieri. a senior SGL.

CPT Michael Ferriter, an LDX company commander agreed. "It was an excellent training tool to replicate the friction points in battle and the fog of war," he said. "It accurately replicated what it would take for a company commander to synchronize multiple assets, and it was a great training tool for clear and concise, real-time reporting during the mission."

The core benefit of VBS2 and the LDX is not just how they replicate certain essential aspects of company command in combat. Execution of the LDX also adds value to our training because it allows prospective company commanders the opportunity to execute a plan in a low-risk, controlled environment where feedback is immediately available. This aspect is one of the things BG Bryan Owens, commandant of the U.S. Army Infantry School, appreciated about the LDX. "VBS2 is a great tool to train our young leaders on the importance of repetition and the ability to communicate with subordinate leaders on the virtual battlefield." he said. "This training event shows the leader what they did or failed to do and allows them to be evaluated not only by their peers but also senior leaders/instructors that have been in their position before."

This combination of the opportunity to execute an OPORD and the chance to learn from repetitions and comprehensive feedback in a safe but realistic environment is what makes the LDX so valuable. "By giving our students the opportunity to actually execute an OPORD they've written, they begin to appreciate how the enemy and the situation play into their plan," said MAJ Pieri. "They can hone their instincts on when to stick to their plan, and when and why to deviate from it."

There are broader opportunities on the horizon for VBS2 training as well. MAJ Curry described a future involving VBS2 training as an integral component of leader training at not only the MCoE's MCCC, but also in coordination with other centers of excellence around the Army.

"The way ahead involves students conducting troop leading procedures (TLPs) with aviators from Fort Rucker (Ala.) as well as fire support officers from Fort Sill (Okla.) because this enables us to train the combined arms fight," he said.

Because the system has value for training leaders at all levels, not just company command, there are applications for it outside of institutional training, which is why VBS2 is a fielded PoR to all major Army posts.

"The long term value is that this system will hopefully be fielded by not only TRADOC units, but also to FORSCOM units, so they will have the ability to train their young sergeants and specialists when they are not in the field training." said BG Owens.

While simulations-based training can never replace more traditional methods and can only replicate the stresses and rigors of combat, using it via the LDX to augment the MCCC experience has been an invaluable improvement. By giving students the opportunity to execute their plans and then learn from their mistakes, the next generation of combat company commanders will be better prepared when they assume command.

CPT Dan Fall is currently serving as a military history instructor with the Directorate of Training, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Ga.
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Title Annotation:TRAINING NOTES
Author:Fall, Dan
Publication:Infantry Magazine
Date:Apr 1, 2011
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