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The rear area fight: 844th Engineer Battalion Imua Dawn 2015 perspectives.

The 844th Engineer Battalion, U.S. Army Reserve, headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, was an available (but unsourced) Army force generation unit in fiscal year 2015. Therefore, the battalion did not receive a programmed, formal exercise for the 2015 training year. However, the 844th completed a combat support training exercise as the engineer headquarters assigned to the 303d Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB), Fort Shatter, Hawaii, and found that the battalion and brigade staffs worked well together. The senior enlisted Soldier in the 303d said that the staffs became ohana, or "family." At the conclusion of that exercise, the 303d MEB began planning Exercise Imua Dawn 2015 and invited the 844th Engineer Battalion to participate.

Brigade Training Intent

Exercise Imua Dawn is the command post exercise for 3d MEB operations in the Pacific area of responsibility. It focuses on the brigade mission-essential tasks in a fictitious location in the Pacific. The scenario is an active Phase 3 fight, with the brigade conducting offensive operations in the division rear area. Held at Sagami Depot, Japan, the 10-day exercise aims to establish, implement, and test the exercise concept, design, and infrastructure; integrate exercise controller operations with observer-controller support; exercise the commander's training objectives for the staffs of the brigade and the participating battalions; and set the conditions for making it the Army's premier MEB command post exercise.

Battalion Training Objective

Because the 844th Engineer Battalion received external evaluations from the 75th Training Division at Warrior Training Exercise in 2013 and Combat Support Training Exercise 91-14-03 in 2014, the desired outcome was to use the battalion observers-controllers trainers as coaches, teachers, and mentors. The commander's training objectives were focused on implementing the rapid decisionmaking and synchronization process on the digital battlefield, while integrating a newly formed staff.

Significant planning must go into staffing to gain maximum benefit from a command post exercise based on the Joint Command and Control Attack Simulator. Two main objectives were used to fill the 18 positions required for the 844th Engineer Battalion team attending Exercise Imua Dawn 2015: bring as many primary staff officers and noncommissioned officers as possible; and place two future company commanders to operate the lower control, execution-level Joint Command and Control Attack Simulator. The primary benefit of this approach is that it created cohesion among a newly formed staff consisting of a battle captain and intelligence, operations, and supply officers who had been assigned those roles for less than 6 months. In simulation events, some headquarters elements may begin micromanaging operations at a lower level than necessary. This usually happens when units provide junior enlisted Soldiers to act as company commanders with responsibilities for which they have no experience or frame of reference. To prevent this, two senior first lieutenants were assigned as simulation operators and provided with the operational instructions to fight and manage their terrain. This allowed the lower controls to engage enemy targets in their operational areas without battalion tactical operation center (TOC) directions and approval. The lower control unit commanders made those decisions just as small-unit leaders on the battlefield would, operating within the rules of engagement and reporting details and results to the battalion TOC. Staffing the event this way allowed the battalion staff to exercise its real function in tracking and managing the higher-level fight rather than directing squad- and team-level movements on the battlefield.

Digital Battlefield Visualization

In 2010, the 926th Engineer Brigade, 412th Theater Engineer Command, issued nine Command Post of the Future (CPOF) Systems to each battalion headquarters, setting conditions to move operation centers into the digital battlefield. The 844th Engineer Battalion began training in depth with these systems in 2012 as preparation for the Warrior Training Exercise. During the trainup for that event, the battalion used a 4th Infantry Division tactical standard operating procedure (SOP) as the template to create a digital battlefield visualization SOP for its own TOC. Unfortunately, the backbone network for the system did not materialize, so the digital battlefield SOP remained incomplete. Exercise Imua Dawn 2015 would provide full CPOF functionality for the first time since the battalion became involved in forward deployed operations. The intent was to force complete use of the CPOF System for all battalion TOC functions as a way to validate the digital battlefield tactical SOP for functionality and use in the battalion headquarters. Therefore, all analog tracking systems were removed from the battalion TOC to eliminate the crutch of defaulting to the hard mapping and tracking matrices normally found in any TOC. The battalion entered the exercise with digital battlefield visualization and tactical SOP development at about 15 percent completion. Leaders estimated that the battalion would finish the exercise with a 75 percent solution.

Overall Impressions

Working with the 303d MEB for 24 months was a great experience for the 844th Engineer Battalion. The conduct of an exercise in the rear area offensive fight provided training that none of the staff captains, lieutenants, or senior noncommissioned officers had ever received. Leaders took away clear lessons in conducting offensive task force-based combat, area security operations, and consequence management in a First World country. The unit left the exercise with an updated tactical SOP equipped with running estimates for tracking and employing infantry; chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives; and military police Soldiers. It also attained a functional digital battlefield visualization standard. The successful completion of the exercise means that the headquarters will return with a readiness posture much higher than what it had when it arrived. Sagami Depot was a terrific host for this event, with a modern, comfortable simulation center and many interesting nearby entertainment options that provided battalion Soldiers with an unparalleled avenue for experiencing Japanese culture. The location forced closer interaction between battalion and brigade staff elements. Based on the results of this event, the 844th Engineer Battalion staff fully supports the Imua Dawn concept and looks forward to training with ohana again in the future.

Major Jones is the executive officer of the 844th Engineer Battalion. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in agricultural and biological engineering from Mississippi State University and is a registered professional civil engineer and project management professional. He is a senior project manager for Tetra Tech, Incorporated.
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Author:Jones, Jeffrey M.
Publication:Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers
Date:Sep 1, 2015
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