Photo Information

Lance Cpl. McKenzie Schmalz, an anti-tank missile man, Personal Security Detachment, Regimental Combat Team 7, and Petty Officer Third Class David Ferguson, a corpsman, PSD, RCT-7, clear a room during urban combat training, May 10. The Marines practiced clearing rooms and shooting on the move during training as part of Spartan Resolve 3-2012. SR 3-12 is an exercise designed to prepare the Marines and sailors of RCT-7 for their upcoming deployment to Helmand province, Afghanistan. “The important thing is that we work together as a team and start coming together,” said Schmalz, a 19-year-old native of Barrington, N.H. “All of this training, not just the close quarters stuff, helps us know what each other is going to do so we can establish good routines.”

Photo by Cpl. Ned Johnson

Aiming for a higher standard in pre-deployment training: Spartan Resolve 3-12 and RCT-7’s preparation for OEF 12.2-13.1

18 May 2012 | Capt. A. Hudson Reynolds 1st Marine Division

Marines with Regimental Combat Team-7 returned home shortly after conducting a Mission Rehearsal Exercise May 1-11 at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, Ind. MRXs are designed to prepare staffs of battalion-sized units and higher on how to efficiently and effectively respond to scenarios they will likely encounter on deployment. They have become a standard training tool for an RCT staff during its pre-deployment training program.

This MRX was part of a larger exercise, Spartan Resolve 3-12, which was coordinated by Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group, based out of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. Sixty-four Marines and civilian employees with the organization participated in the eleventh iteration of a regimental-sized Spartan Resolve to support the RCT as it prepares to deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom 12.2-13.1.

“We focus specifically on regimental and battalion staffs, getting them to be able to function and command and control their units in combat,” said Col. Bill Mullen, commanding officer, MCTOG. “We have a lot of simulation, it’s all virtual and constructive, to immerse them in the environment that we think they’re going to have to deal with. That means there’s a higher headquarters, there’s a lower headquarters, there’s adjacent units, all pulling on them and pushing on them for information, and really trying to make sure they fully understand what’s going on around them.”

RCT-7 knew the standard routine for Spartan Resolve, but for SR 3-12 it wasn’t enough.

Go Big or Go Home

The Marines of RCT-7 wanted to undergo the most involved Spartan Resolve they could manage with MCTOG. This required significant expansion to the training exercise’s schedule and content, among other aspects.

SR 3-12 lasted ten days and included a reset day in the middle where the scenario jumped ahead 90 days to challenge the Marines to react to long-term consequences of decisions made in the first half of the exercise. Compared to all other Spartan Resolves before it, which typically last under a week, Mullen said SR 3-12 was the longest both in time spent during the training days and in the number of days in the exercise.

Lieutenant Col. James McArthur, operations officer, RCT-7, said the main training objectives for SR 3-12 were for the Marines of RTC-7 to notionally conduct key leader engagements; Attack the Network operations, which target lethal and nonlethal actions toward adversary, neutral and friendly networks; and stability operations that focus on four lines of operations – Afghan National Security Force development, security operations, Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan development, and realignment and redeployment. To train to these objectives, RCT-7 ensured SR 3-12 combined its MRX with various working groups and planning meetings, as well as ranges and other field exercises.

These separate events were interwoven throughout SR 3-12 where the results of one directly affected another. Information collected from MRX message traffic provided intelligence that allowed staff members to piece together adversary threat networks used in its Attack the Network operations. Staff members were pushed to update assessments on LOOs for stability operations based on events included in the MRX’s master scenario event list. Convoys for the KLEs incorporated live fire ranges and IED training for the RCT-7 Personal Security Detail, testing the training PSD Marines had received earlier in the exercise.

MCTOG also brought with them additional participants to serve as enablers. These enablers included representatives from organizations such as U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of Agriculture to replicate the interagency coordination necessary for stability and Attack the Network operations. Some were role-players who acted as GIRoA and ANSF officials to allow RCT-7 command and staff members to directly train for key leader engagements and ANSF coordination.

“The fact that we had those enablers was absolutely key,” McArthur said.

The exercise’s location also contributed to the large scale of SR 3-12. Conducting the exercise at Camp Atterbury when the unit is already located in MCAGGC Twentynine Palms, one of the Marine Corps’ most capable training grounds, was no afterthought.
“The best part is the isolation, getting away from their home station. There’s no day job. They come here, they’re completely focused,” Mullen said.

McArthur admitted that the RCT also had this in mind while planning for the exercise. He added conducting SR 3-12 in unfamiliar terrain and sequestered conditions gave RCT-7 an opportunity to plan, embark, deploy, conduct RSO&I, employ, re-embark and then redeploy back to home station, similar to a combat deployment.

RCT-7 conducted its MRX with 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, and 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, both of which participated from MCAGCC Twentynine Palms. Both battalions will be deployed in support of OEF 12.2-13.1 with RCT-7.

Lieutenant Col. Donald Tomich, CO, 2/7, said SR 3-12 is just one of several exercises in the battalion’s PTP, but he admitted the exercise provided a unique dimension to their training.

“In the other scenarios you don’t have a living, breathing headquarters,” Tomich said.

Tomich added the extensive amount of background detail and the incorporation of enablers enhanced the complexity of the exercise scenario. He said this provided friction to the training, but ultimately resulted in a constructive exercise.

McArthur added even the intensive training schedule was a product of SR 3-12’s design.

“We purposefully set up an operating environment and a battle rhythm that would require us to execute events either simultaneously or near simultaneously,” McArthur said. “It was an ambitious schedule. Everyone rose to the occasion, and we were able to meet all of our training objectives.”

A Long Way Coming

This ambitious training was a culmination of RCT-7’s PTP schedule up to that point, essentially making SR 3-12 the RCT’s capstone exercise. McArthur said starting May 2011, RCT-7 had initiated its four-block PTP schedule, in which SR 3-12 occurred near the end as a part of Block IV. The schedule has included several exercises to engage RCT-7 at multiple levels, such as Mountain Exercise 7-11 where Marines with the RCT trained with 1/7 at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif. It also includes Advisor Training Group coordination and training for the Marines of RCT-7’s ANSF coordination cell, enhancing their ability to manage an effective transition with ANSF while deployed.

McArthur added that RCT-7 also conducted various professional military education courses, which were integrated throughout the year-long PTP schedule. This PME curriculum covered a multitude of subjects ranging from Attack the Network operations, to integration with explosive ordnance disposal units and special operations forces, to the application of civil affairs and rules of engagement in the OEF environment.

For training its staff, the Spartan Resolves have been the main events in RCT-7’s PTP. The RCT conducted SR 1-12 in MCAGCC Twentynine Palms with 2/5 and 1/7 in December 2011. All three units trained in conjunction with the final MRX for I Marine Expeditionary Force and 1st Marine Division, coordinated by Marine Air Ground Task Force Staff Training Program. This allowed RCT-7 to refine its processes for coordinating combat support up and down the chain of command. With the conclusion of SR 1-12, the RCT staff had an initial performance base to expand on.

In January 2012, RCT-7 conducted SR 2-12 with 3/8 and 3/9, once again at MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, providing the RCT with the opportunity to execute its lessons learned from SR 1-12. After SR 2-12, the RCT’s sights were fixed on the third and the Marines began a long and detailed planning process with MCTOG to make it happen.

“The planning and preparation began right after Spartan Resolve 2-12,” McArthur said. “When I say after, I mean immediately after.”
When SR 2-12 ended mid-January, RCT-7 and MCTOG conducted an after-action brief where MCTOG provided the RCT with feedback on the unit’s performance. McArthur said RCT-7 responded by asking MCTOG to specifically provide opportunities to train those skills MCTOG determined the RCT needed to improve most.

Planning for the exercise began right away and was as four-and-a-half-month effort, McArthur said.

This cumulative training effort was all MCTOG needed to develop a Spartan Resolve in a league of its own.

“When we can do at least two events with the regiment, that’s when we can really pull out all the stops, which is what we did with this exercise,” Mullen said. “We threw everything at them.”

Marching to OEF

MCTOG ensured that during SR 3-12, the Marines of RCT-7 spent 10 days intensely immersed in an up-to-date simulation of the OEF operational environment.

“Everything we did for [SR 3-12]... was oriented on exactly what they’re going to be faced with in Afghanistan,” said Mullen. “We were pulling information up until a week before this exercise started, right from the operating forces - as a matter of fact, from the regiment they’re going to be relieving out there. It’s about as close as you can get to full immersion.”

Now the RCT faces a period of several months before it steps off to deploy in support of OEF 12.2-13.1 this fall. This timeframe can easily breed complacency, which can then result in the degradation of valuable skills that were developed and refined throughout the RCT’s PTP. The Marines of RCT-7 anticipated this.

“Our priorities are to take the after action report that MCTOG gave us and determine what things can we improve on between now and the time we deploy,” McArthur said. “We’re participating as an RCT in Enhanced Mojave Viper [7-12], and we’re going to be the higher headquarters for all those units that are participating in that exercise.”

McArthur said this provides the RCT with the opportunity to incorporate its lessons learned from SR 3-12 into its participation in EMV 7-12, allowing RCT-7 to sustain the skills MCTOG commended and improve those that MCTOG assessed the RCT needs to work on.

“We have a couple months to tee both those things up so we can come out of EMV an even stronger organization,” McArthur said.
By utilizing a cumulative planning approach and intensely executing their training, the Marines of RCT-7 conducted the largest Spartan Resolve to-date. After effectively setting a new standard for pre-deployment training, the Marines are focused on employing lessons learned from the culminating exercise and the rest of their PTP when they deploy in support of OEF 12.2-13.1 this fall.

“That’s one of the things we really focused on, was make this one the best we’ve ever done,” Mullen said. “It was the best not only because of what we were doing, but also because of 7th Marines.”
“They’re absolutely ready to go.”

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