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The Army's Nerve Center.

TUCKED away in the basement of the Pentagon, two levels beneath a parking lot, is the Department of the Army Operations Center.

Critical information flows through the high-security worksite, with AOC personnel--almost all in uniform-working day and night to keep senior Army leaders aware of issues and events around the world, helping them make timely, critical decisions, said COL Pete Utley, chief of current operations and contingency plans.

"The AOC is the conduit among commanders in the field and Army staff and senior leaders,"' said Utley. "We're very attuned to what Soldiers are doing every day. We make sure the priorities and critical needs identified by commanders are addressed and that all of those great Soldiers out there are getting the best possible support so they can succeed."

Former AOC director MG Peter Chiarelli, now commanding the 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq, describes the AOC as the Army's command-and-control center. Among recent issues and events AOC staffers have dealt with were a transportation convoy being ambushed in Iraq, a special-forces team discovering and destroying a weapons cache while under hostile fire in Afghanistan, up-armored Humvees arriving at a staging area in Kuwait and awaiting movement to troops in Iraq, and the possible deployment to Iraq of units from the Korea-based 2nd Infantry Div.

Mission: Army Watch

Within the AOC is the Army Watch, a year-round emergency-action facility. It's the central point of contact during emergencies. A two-person officer and NCO team directs hundreds of communications daily to the FBI, the State Department, the White House Command Center, local law-enforcement agencies and others. Two teams split a 24-hour shift to deal with contingencies ranging from a severe-weather warning to a stolen nuclear device.

"The watch team must be able to handle some of the most unusual and critical situations imaginable, and keep operations center leaders informed," said MAJ Jim Walton.

They even have procedures for dealing with UFOs, said SFC Jeff Roper.

Emergency Action Console

Collocated with tie Army Watch is the Emergency Action Console, a switchboard with direct access to top leaders. The EAC is manned by up to four NCOs, all of whom are well versed in all types of secure communications. Among the equipment used are Redline telephones connected to a military network and immediately secure when at least two telephones are in use.

The EAC's reach is vast when it comes to putting critical information in the hands of those who need it.

"We can send a secure fax to a general officer on an airplane in flight anywhere in the world," said SGT Justin Ciohesy.

Crisis Action Team

While the Army Watch monitors forces around the world, the Crisis Action Team, or CAT, focuses on specific areas during emergencies. Some of its key responsibilities include organizing forces to resolve a crisis, training forces to meet specific mission requirements, mobilizing national resources to support military objectives, and activating Reserve and National Guard forces as needed. That also involves equipping those forces, planning rotations while sustaining them, and then demobilizing individuals and units after the crisis has been resolved.

For a short-term crisis, active-component Soldiers from the Department of the Army staff man the CAT. Reserve-component Soldiers augment and eventually replace the active-duty Soldiers during long-term crises such as the current war on terrorism.

In the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the AOC staff tripled and the CAT staff's operational tempo went into high speed, Utley said.

Reserve-component Soldiers now compose more than 90 percent of the CAT. All have volunteered for the duty, Utley said, bringing a variety of skills to the team. Among the staff are a minister, lawyers, physician assistants, teachers, police officers, accountants, small-business owners, firefighters, an airline pilot, business managers, engineers and government employees. They represent virtually every branch of the Army.

The CAT consists of a dedicated "hot" desk with classified and unclassified computers, and secure telephones for 24 separate Army staff sections. CAT support teams include the Anti-Terrorism Operations Intelligence Cell and Foreign Intelligence Watch teams, the Personnel Contingency Cell and the Logistics Operations Cell.

Daily briefings to senior leaders may contain up to 100 PowerPoint slides, with graphics detailing up-to-the-minute intelligence and operations issues. One of the presenter's challenges is keeping each briefing to 30 minutes, including time for questions.

Visitor Destination

While access to some AOC locations requires a top-secret clearance and access card, the center frequently hosts such visitors as congressional staffers, U.S. and foreign dignitaries, War College classes and entertainers.

When they're not escorting visitors, NCOs are preparing daily situation reports, concise summaries of significant events and actions that are distributed to key leaders each day. Most of the AOC staff consists of officers and senior NCOs, with a few junior NCOs.

Memorable Moments

The AOC staff has occupied a front-row seat as operations of the last few years played out. When troops entered Iraq, senior leaders joined staffers for a tense all-night vigil. By employing the latest technologies, they were able to look on as Baghdad fell and watch as Saddam Hussein was pulled from a hole in the ground.

"It's kind of neat being this far away but feeling like you're right there,"' Utley said.

Such experiences have done more than give staffers a personal piece of history in the making. They have witnessed the dedication, skills and sacrifices of the men and women making it happen.

"There is a lot of respect here for what Soldiers are doing over there," Utley said. "No doubt about it."

MAJ William Schwab is a member of the California Army National Guard and sewed an active-duty stint as a member of the AOC staff. SGT Lorie Jewell writes for the Army News Service at the Pentagon.
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Title Annotation:Department of the Army Operations Center
Author:Schwab, William P.; Jewell, Lorie
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Words:950
Previous Article:First line of defense.
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