Joe and Fred thanks for your comments and input. I will continue to build off that. I look forward to more input, particularly, not only military but other real world examples of “how to” with adaptabilty.
Execution of free play force on force exercises with cadets.
I am using an example that Joe knows to well, but gets at one of my objectives of this blog is to provide real world examples (good and bad) of how to develop and nurture adaptability to share with others.
When I was the OPS officer and XO of the Georgetown ROTC program, we did many free play exercises. The one that most of my former cadets remember the most is the fall semester FTX which centered around a 24 hour free play force on force exercises. In this exercise, we did a lot of things that people said that could not be done. I must add, that during this time, both of my bosses (the professor of military science or PMS) were supportive and also got into the play as cadre tactical officers or observers. This example is given in five parts, an overarching scenario which includes our objectives, terrain and scenarios and an overview of what was done. Part 2 is discussion of the blue forces mission, part 3 is discussion of the oppossing forces mission, Part 4 is cadre preparation, and finally Part 5 is a summary of what happened (we did this exercise several times, so I will try to highlight key points over five years).
1. Our program’s objective was to develop adaptability as well as a foundation for adaptability which included competence and confidence. Emphasis was on troop leading procedures (planning and preparartion), small unit tactics and leadership (rapid decision making). We would do this was stress, little sleep while performing under simulated combat conditions against a thinking enemy operating in rough terrain (Fort AP Hill, Virginia), which included low hills, small valleys, criss-crossed by streams and swamps, cut by small roads and heavily forested in many parts. Weather by this time was cool to cold at night, and sometimes it rained. Both sides would only carry what they could by SOP on their person. Weapons included small arms with blanks.
The scenario would begin with the OPFOR setting up their patrol base simulated and manned by all our vehicles and logistics. They would operate out of this site for all their missions, and it would provide an aiming point for the BLUFOR. The OPFOR were then given specified missions by their so-called “Front” which included ambushes, and combat patrols, as well as pulling security for their base. The mission would end if the BLUFOR found the base, and would be given a new mission to conduct a raid on the site. From that point they would be given another new mission to move to an extract point to get picked up and leave the area of operations.
At the same time, the OPFOR would given a final mission to pursue the BLUFOR. Along the route of egress to their landing zone, the BLUFOR woud be given another FRAGMENTARY order or new mission to conduct an ambush on the pursuing OPFOR after a Predator identified them as purusing (there was no fire support available for this mission). Each phase of the exercise was bridged by an After Action Review (or AAR) where the OPFOR representative would discuss their plan, and the BLUFOR would discuss what they learned (facilitated by a senior and a cadre member).
2. Friendly forces: Cadets who were preparing to go to Cadet Command Leader Development and Accessions Course (LDAC) at Fort Lewis, WA were in their junio and Military Science Year III (MS III). They would act as a small Blue Forces infantry platoon conducting a simulated night air assault to identify and gather intelligence on an insurgency base of operations. Their previous two and half months of classes and field training centered around Tactical decision games, and small unit operations (squad and platoon) with cadets rotating through leadership positions, as well as small arms proficiency and physical training. At the start of the semester, cadets received a packet which built on the scenario they would be conducting in November at Fort AP Hill. All classes and field exercises built toward this end with different scenarios and varying conditions. Canned lanes and lectures were not used.
Leading up to the free play exercise, there were constant propaganda events promoting clean competition between the BLUFOR and OPFOR. Both sides got into the spirit, and spent extra time outside their requirements in our course preparing for the event, like holding tactical seminars and rehearsing simple SOPs.
Prior to the force on force beginning on Saturday afternoon, cadets conducted two other exercises, one was a land navigation course, and the other was Leader Situational Exercises using the 16 event Leader Reaction Course (LRC). They had began the weekend with a 0530 formation at Georgetown, with their own student chain of command responsible for their preparation (individual and unit) for the event. After loading all their equipment and unit supplies, the unit made the hour and half trip to Fort AP Hill and headed right for the land navigation exercise. From there, all cadets would move to and conduct the LRC, while eating on the move. After the LRC, the two sides were issued their weapons and any special equipment, and moved out beginning their first mission.
At the beginning of the free play force on force exercise, the BLUFOR squads were simulated air assaulted to different points and their second mission was to move to and link up as a platoon and then occupy a patrol base (at night). From their they would be issued FRAGMENTARY orders (new missions) which centered around finding and observing enemy activities. Once they discovered the enemy base, the BLUFOR received a new order to conduct a raid (which had been covered in previous TDGs and rehearsals). After their AAR for that mission, the new chain of command (which changed after each major mission) was ordered to move out quickly and link up at a pick up zone (PZ) to move out of the area. Along the way of their march, the chain of command was informed that the enemy was in hot pursuit and they were conduct a hasty ambush to destroy them. After the AAR of this event, both sides reunited and conducted a short foot road march to their ground transportation for their trip home.
3. Enemy Forces: (this is where the chain of command above our level was shocked). The enemy g-force or Oppossing Forces (OPFOR) was composed of MS Is and IIs (freshmen and sophomores) who were organized in a small two platoon light infantry force, and given a operations order from a higher command in which they acted in accordance with. They were overseen by MS IVs (seniors) and cadre (officers and NCOs). They even conducted their own preparation which included a company order (given by their own command) and rehearsals. The OPFOR was led by MS Is and IIs that were picked by the seniors based on their leadership potential and how well they had performed to date. The cadets saw this as based on merit and it drove them hard because many of them would get to lead fellow cadets for the first time under simulated combat conditions.
4. Cadre preparation: Cadre of course prior to the start of the semester had to go over their class content and discuss what each field training exercise would consist of in order to culiminate by mid-November with this exercise. Cadre also oversaw the development of the seniors who were allowed to run as much of the program as possible, including the issuing of operations orders, briefings and preparations of both sides (actual MS IVs were given TAC responsibilities to both sides early on so they could begin to work with that side). Two weeks or so out from the exercise, the cadre would do a rehearsal at the actual side, and in day light walk the all the missions. They would also test their communications through small hand held radio in order to pass observations and locations in each side to be used in the AAR. This is important for safety as well as passing on information in order for the TACs to have a holistic view of what the unit they are observing in the context of the larger picture. This makes their job of facilitating during the AAR easier. And finally, to make the exercise go smooth, the cadre would go over the logistics plan to the smallest detail, who, what, where and when.
One last item, the cadre were operating off a timeline that reflected a cadet timeline to ensure cadet leaders were given guidance from the cadre in a timely manner, as well as when cadet were expected to backbrief their progress and preparation for the exercise.
5. Summary: After the first year, this became the favorite exercise of the many exercises cadets looked forward too. We would post lessons learned and do overall AAR in the class room upon return the week after Thanksgiving. Also, throughout the spring semester, we would continue to build off the lessons learned in the culiminating exercise of the fall. We found that the cadets would continue to think about missions that seemed to hard to outsiders, and also we built pride in the cadets for allowing them to do missions considered by many others as too hard (such as moving into and occupying a patrol base at night). This occurred time and time again when our cadets talked to people they knew from other programs that would continue to do canned Situational Training Exercise (STX) lanes.
The only downfall would pertain to safety. The cadre would be “smoked” after doing this exercise with the cadets and would have to ensure that the drivers of vehicles got adequate sleep prior to returning to Georgetown University from Fort AP Hill (60 miles). The cadre also had to oversee the return of weapons to the Old Guard or 3rd U.S. Infantry at Fort Myers as well as the parking of vehicles and turning in of equipment upon return.
Points of resistance from the establishment
a. Issue: The missions are too hard for cadets to do. Our reply, we did not evaluate the cadets on tactical proficiency or tasks accomplishment using a checklist. We observed leadership and decision making, while guiding them through each mission. Also, the cadets learned a lot quickly from experiencing the mission and its many tasks while executing. At the same time, cadre and MS IV tacs would “tweak” both sides or make on the spot corrections while not to interfere with the actual mission. They could do this with subtle hints or if obvious mistake, by wounding or killing the violator.
b. Issue: Cadets of lesser ability or ones that were not sold on the program would get “run off.” This might be true, but what we found out that by raising the bar, it made most cadets work harder due to the peer pressure build through a program of excellence. It also made for better recruiting as cadets went out and “sold the program” based on higher standards (vice what was preceived or expected by outsiders from ROTC) and the challenges cadets would get in the program.