By C. Todd Lopez
HOHENFELS, Germany (Nov. 01, 2008) -- Before deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan, American Soldiers and coalition partners regularly choose to train at state-of-the-art ranges and facilities managed and maintained by Europe's Joint Multinational Training Command's Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas.
The command is responsible for the largest training area in Europe and has about 18 training support centers, including sites in Italy and Kosovo. The training environment includes live, virtual and simulated training on more than 44 modern, computerized, live-fire ranges and can support current and future expeditionary forces composed of airborne, artillery, aviation and infantry components.
"We do home-station training and simulation training," said Capt. Junel Jeffrey, a spokeswoman for the Joint Multinational Readiness Center. The JMRC, under JMTC, plans, coordinates and executes mission-rehearsal exercises to prepare units for major combat, counter-insurgency, security and stability operations in European Command and Central Command areas of operations.
"We train from a Soldier level all the way to the brigade level. And it is important to point out that in addition to all those things, our location really adds another dimension: our unique ability to train and coexists with multinational and coalition forces," Jeffrey said. "That really separates us from our stateside combat training centers."
The training area at Hohenfels, known as the "box," is about 10 by 20 kilometers in size. The remainder of the site is peppered with caves, simulated towns, firing ranges, military operations in urban terrain sites where Soldiers can learn how to secure buildings, and even an improvised explosive device lane, so Soldiers can learn to spot and neutralize IEDs.
"When we are engaged in a mission-readiness exercise, the towns come alive with the civilians that work there and who live there throughout the time we are training," Jeffrey said. "They have bakeries, they have coffee shops. And that adds a different dimension of realism that a lot of time the Soldiers wouldn't see unless they come here."
Commanders bring their units to Hohenfels to get them prepared for deployment. They bring along with them a set of training goals they hope to achieve during their time there.
The JMRC staff doesn't conduct the training at Hohenfels, rather, they facilitate it. It's the unit commanders who are responsible for training their Soldiers. But JMRC provides the facilities and observers/ controllers, or O/Cs, who can help commanders meet their training goals.
"Soldiers come here with a set of validation tasks, things their brigade commander or their corps commander says they have to be able to do before they go down range," said Dave Caples, the Instrumentation Training Analysis Computer Simulations and Support Center operations officer. "If the O/Cs are comfortable with the training that occurred, and they know the unit is prepared to accomplish each one of those validation tasks, then they are happy with what they have given them."
The handful of O/C teams at Hohenfels includes those to help train brigade staffs, and those who train Soldiers in maneuvers, fire support, aviation and engineering. There's even a team designated to work with the Air Force when they participate in training.
The training areas at Hohenfels are also manned by actors, played by both German nationals and members of the 1st Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, who serve as the opposing force. Together, the groups simulate civilian authority figures such as the police, both government officials and non-government agencies, the media, members of the local population, clergymen, linguists, terrorists and belligerents. Role-players are even outfitted with costumes.
"In addition to our standard set of civilians on the battlefield for major rotations, we will also bring in as many as 500 Arabic-speaking civilians from around Germany," Caples said. "Their role is primarily to populate those towns to give Soldiers an even more realistic view of what is going on in theater. Those civilians are complete with clothing from the area."
During and after training, the O/ Cs help commanders conduct afteraction reviews with their Soldiers to help them learn from their training experience, so they can avoid repeating those same mistakes when the bullets are real.
Commanders and the O/Cs may choose to conduct old-school "green book" AARs -- where the notes they've taken reside in governmentissued paper ledgers, and the lessons to be learned are read aloud and illustrated with slideshows featuring excerpts from dry military doctrine.
But at Hohenfels, the secret to conducting an AAR with sticking power is also the key to making the training they conduct there some of the best in Europe: technology.
When Soldiers participate in training on the ranges at Hohenfels, they, their equipment, and the facilities they train in are instrumented with some of the best training technology in the Army.
The ITACSS team, working out of Building 100 at Hohenfels, is at the center of all that technology.
"We can track up to 2000 vehicles and personnel with only one second latency -- near real time," Caples said. "And we can see where they are going, so if they make a wrong move, we know."
The Soldiers who train at the ranges at Hohenfels are equipped with harnesses that allow technicians and analysts to know where they are on the training ranges, via integrated GPS. Video cameras provide live video feeds of what Soldiers are doing in training villages, shoot houses and MOUT sites. Trained videographers and photographers, part of the VIPER unit, get in close with the cameras to document key activities. Recording devices log radio traffic between commanders and their Soldiers.
Nearly all this technology is connected to Building 100, also called "The Star Wars Building," through fiber optics and the training area's radio towers.
On computer screens, analysts can track vehicle locations, locations of participating aircraft, which Soldiers were shot, and who shot them. And when the training is over for the day -- or just for the moment -- that information: video, audio and telemetry collected from Soldiers and vehicles, can be recalled to produce AARs that allow Soldiers to see exactly what they did, when they did it, who they did it to, and if they did it according to their commander's plan.
"We can record everything that the units are talking about. This is a very important tool in the data collection process," Caples said. "If there were some command and control issues, for instance, somebody may say, 'Hey you said this,' and another says, 'No I didn't.' Well, we can say, 'Yes you did.' We can go back, a week or two after, and pull that audio out of the archive and put it into the AAR. That normally makes for very good feedback."
And when training is over and units go back to their home stations, they can easily remember what they learned on the training ranges at Hohenfels. The unit there makes a takehome package for commanders, that includes much of the information recorded during their training, and all the assessments of that training.
"We want to make realistic training for these guys, and then provide them at the end with some constructive feedback on what they should have done or could have done and how they can train when they go back to home station," Caples said. "That's really key for us. When they leave here we give them a take-home package with all the AARs and executive summaries from the O/Cs. We also include all the references to doctrine that were used during the after-action review. It is a good package for them to take home and continue with their training."
JMRC doesn't just train American Soldiers in Germany. They bring members of allied militaries to the training as well, including countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, France, Croatia, the Netherlands, Poland, Italy, Spain, Afghanistan, Bulgaria and Romania, and equipment and trainers can be sent anywhere, anytime. The JMTC exports training tools to coalition partners in their countries too. As part of the Georgia Sustainment Security Operation Program, the JMTC has trained about 2,400 Georgian troops in little more than 24 months.
The program is part of an initiative to strengthen relationships between the two nations.
By inviting militaries of other nations to participate in training, JMTC ensures that not only are American Soldiers getting to train against the full spectrum of military operations, but they are also learning to fight alongside those they may fight alongside in real-world conflicts. The Army is also helping to build greater relationships with allied countries.
"There is a lot in the news about multinational forces sending their people down range," Jeffrey said. "One of the important things here is that we want to make sure that the first time that we work together is not when we actually get there. Our training here at JMRC kind of exposes both sides, U.S. Soldiers and multinational soldiers, to the challenges of working together."
The technology at Hohenfels is now being exported to other areas outside the Joint Multinational Training Command footprint. The ITACSS team recently deployed a tool that takes the capability of Building 100 and makes it portable.
The Exportable Instrumentation System is a portable set of equipment that, like Building 100, tracks player and equipment movement during exercises and records their activity and communications for use during the after-action review process.
The EIS was deployed in its entirety for the first time in August 2008 to Hammelburg, Germany, to be part of a MRE there.
The system consists of several pieces of portable equipment, including the "Global Hawk" containers which house the computers that run the system; several hard shelters called Herdside Expandable Light Air-Mobile Shelters, that house workstations for analysts; and several remote base stations that can be placed around a training range to act as signal repeaters, feeding information back into EIS.
"We are the only place in the world that has something like this," Caples said. "The EIS is meant to deploy anywhere in the world. We give these guys the flexibility to do a whole lot of things simultaneously, and I think it will enhance the training immensely."
With the facilities and technology available at Hohenfels, JMRC can provide Soldiers some of the most realistic training available in the Army; in some cases, providing even more than what might ever be seen in the real world -- anything to prepare Soldiers to do their job correctly, and safely, said Lt. Col. Daniel Redden, JMRC chief of operations.
"We literally give them the worst possible day they will ever have in theater, stuff they may never, ever see," said Redden. "We make it the worst -- everything. You've got a senator coming to visit, 15 IEDs today, X number of Soldiers hurt and killed, the local population is rioting. There is virtually nothing we cannot think of to throw at them. That's the way units get better. When we talk to privates on the ground, they say this is some of the best training they ever got. The feedback is great."