HOHENFELS, Germany -- A glimpse into the tactical operations center (TOC) during Exercise Swift Response 17, Phase 2 (SR 17-2) reveals an incredibly hectic working environment, akin to the nature of a beehive, with all the worker bees buzzing around in a kind of tumultuous harmony; all with the common goal of bolstering the community under the queen's guidance. The worker bees, or Soldiers, are each allotted unique tasks and purposes, to which they execute to their utmost abilities.
The broad purpose of the 173rd Airborne Brigade's mission during training exercise SR 17-2 is to perform a joint-forcible entry with the Airborne Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (A-CJEF) into a hostile airfield, rid the surrounding communities of enemy forces and establish a defensive posture while ensuring safety for civilians affected by the illegal incursion of the invading force.
173rd Airborne Brigade efforts to plan this mission commenced far in advance of the actual mission. Months before units deployed to Germany, the planning committee started writing concept of operations reports, fleshing out manning concerns, war-gaming the "what-ifs" of every conceivable scenario possible.
"Initial planning for this exercise began back in July during the Joint Commander's Academic Program (JCAP)," said Maj. Quyen N. Dang, the 173rd Airborne Brigade future operations officer. "It started with our two brigades, Airborne Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (A-CJEF) and the 173rd Airborne Brigade. We discussed what capabilities we have and what capabilities they have, so we can tackle the problem of winning the battle."
In the TOC, they work in a frenzied manner as circumstances inevitably morph into something other than the primary plan. However, they performed their duties correctly so what would be an untamed beast of uncontrollable variables to the unprepared unit, is swiftly mitigated and resolved by the sage expertise of the planning committee.
"When planning, we talk about enemy capabilities; the most likely and most dangerous courses of action, so we are always prepared for anything," said Dang. "Intelligence assets provide a big piece of that. They provide mission analysis, which is the first step to the Military Decision Making Process; that's crucial."
Ensuring there are smooth communication lines between the future operations personnel and the current operations personnel can be very difficult due to the rapid nature of a full-scale operation. To reduce the complexity, these personnel wear both hats.
"There is a bleed-over for our staff," said Dang. "The Soldiers who are in there planning will usually be on the floor for current operations. You want to get as many people into the plans as possible so when execution happens, everyone is on the same page."
"Attention in the TOC!" is ordered by the battle captain upon receipt of the latest situation reports. The command is audibly followed by the report which is constantly being updated by various factions carrying out their tasks outside the lines of safety. Like an umbilical cord connected from the mother to the child, the leaders in the TOC are one with their respective assets on the ground, via the reports read off by the battle captain and Liaison Officers.
The intelligence commander coordinates with his subordinates, the supply commander ensures sound logistical decisions are made by the extensions of himself, the brigade commander oversees all his units.
Adding to the moving parts, is the giant interoperability piece between the United States Army and A-CJEF, made up of British and French Paratroopers, as well as liaison officers from Spain, Italy and the Netherlands contributing to the decision making. This addition to the controlled chaos already seen in internal missions confounds matters exponentially.
"Inevitably, you deal with the complexities of different national caveats," said British A-CJEF Tactical Command Post Operations Officer, Cpt. Hugo C. Cartwright of the British Army, 16th Air Assault Brigade. "To get on the Dutch helicopters, you have to do their training."
It's what the exercise was designed to do: force challenges during peace to amplify the strength of a combat team in the case of emergency, by integrating different combat techniques, procedures and assets to create an elusively formidable leviathan of a fighting force.
"I'm a great believer that the Army is about people, and in fact, the world is about people," said Cartwright. "The best way to overcome these challenges is to get to know people, understand the systems and not let the processes beat you."
Cartwright's philosophy on how to overcome differences and build international unity perfectly aligns with the 173rd's mission statement, which is yet another example of the unshakable magnitude that drives NATO's Alliance and partnerships:
"The 173rd Airborne Brigade (Sky Soldiers) is the U.S. Army's Contingency Response Force in Europe, providing rapid forces to the United States European, Africa and Central Commands areas of responsibilities. Forward-based in Italy and Germany, the Brigade routinely trains alongside NATO Allies and partners to build interoperability and strengthen the Alliance."
Exercise SR 17-2 is comprised of more than 6,000 participants from Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. It is an annual, U.S. Army Europe-led exercise focused on allied airborne forces' ability to quickly and effectively respond to crisis situations as an interoperable multi-national team.