Supporting split-based operations

by MAJ Jeff Girard

Current Signal doctrine, as outlined in Field Manual 11-55 (dated June 22, 1999), discusses split-based operations support. The FM discusses split-based operations in the context of downsizing management and logistical elements for the forward-deployed area and to move data from homebase. This article, however, discusses a different perspective on split-based operations: when one Signal battalion must simultaneously execute two distinctly different missions located 6,000 miles apart.

This was the mission 10th Signal Battalion soldiers had to execute for eight months. This article will outline successes, failures and recommendations in areas of command and control, logistics, administration, training, leadership and influence.

Background

In December 1998, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., received the mission to participate in Stabilization Force 6 as the Multinational Division North headquarters while simultaneously planning and training for the joint-contingency force’s advanced warfighting experiment. The AWE was held at the Joint Readiness Training Center’s Rotation 00-10 in September. Planning for the SFOR and JRTC missions continued through June 1999.

LTC Kent Woods assumed command of 10th Signal Battalion June 15, 1999. CSM Donna Mitchell concurrently assumed duties as the battalion’s command sergeant major, and MAJ Jeffrey Girard began his job as the battalion’s new executive officer.

The 10th Signal Battalion’s organization is shown in the figures below.

10th Signal Battalion organizational chart 10th Signal Battalion organizational chart.
10th Signal Battalion asset distribution 10th Signal Battalion asset distribution.

In July 1999, 189 soldiers and 10th Signal Battalion’s colors deployed to Bosnia. The battalion’s soldiers and equipment that deployed (called Task Force Eagle Voice) are shown in the figures below.

Task Force Eagle Voice organization Task Force Eagle Voice organization.
Task Force Eagle Voice assets Task Force Eagle Voice assets.

The battalion’s remaining 310 soldiers and equipment organized as 10th Signal Battalion (Provisional) or TF Drum Voice – shown in figures below. These soldiers’ primary mission was to plan, equip and train for the JRTC rotation.

10th Signal Battalion (Provisional) task force organization 10th Signal Battalion (Provisional)'s Task Force Drum Voice organization.
10th Signal Battalion (Provisional) task force assets 10th Signal Battalion (Provisional) Task Force Drum Voice assets.

The challenges and solutions to a multitude of problems the two task forces faced are covered in the following paragraphs.

General

As shown in the next-to-last figure above, the ad hoc staff of TF Drum Voice was mostly made up of noncommissioned officers. This is an important fact for two reasons. First and foremost, it provided a group of fine NCOs the chance to assume the duties of the staff primaries. Second, it meant the NCOs were required to perform duties and execute tasks for which they may not have had the training or the experience.

Mission

The main effort for TF Drum Voice was to plan, train and prepare for the JCF AWE. This included receiving new equipment, some of which was unique in the Army’s inventory. We were required to identify and cross-train our soldiers, as the AWE didn’t provide for any more soldiers.

The secondary effort was to provide communications support to the first brigade-combat teams and other units remaining at Fort Drum.

These missions’ existence is what made this a unique situation. TF Drum Voice wasn’t a rear detachment; it was a task force specifically organized, manned and equipped to perform vital missions during this time.

Communications support

During the period of split-based operations, TF Drum Voice was required to provide communications support during several exercises. These included a mobile-subscriber-equipment network to support 27th Enhanced Separate Brigade’s annual training for two weeks, an MSE network to support 1st BCT’s field-training exercise for two weeks and many other smaller networks to support command-post exercises and training.

We used these exercises to maintain TF Drum Voice’s training status and mission focus. We found that by ensuring the task force maintained a mission focus and consistent operations tempo during split-based operations, the task force’s soldiers maintained a healthy sense of self-worth and didn’t feel like a "second team" to the SFOR-deployed soldiers.

Training

One of the biggest shortcomings I identified with TF Drum Voice was that the ad hoc staff had little experience with collaborative staff planning. Furthermore, many of the task-force staff primaries had little or no knowledge of the military decision-making process. I had only one battle-staff-qualified NCO on the staff.

I immediately set up a training plan based on the information in FM 101-5. The first iteration lasted two weeks, in which I taught one step each day. I used the preparation for communications support to the 1st BCTs as the training vehicle for this initial training. I then ran a second MDMP training session about three months later.

Administration

The creation of two distinct task forces made creation of two distinct rating schemes necessary. We anticipated this anomaly and planned for it. Prior to the split, we completed change-of-rater reports on all officers and NCOs whose rating chain was affected. We then created two rating chains that minimized the number of soldiers whose rating chain was split between the two task forces.

Furthermore, we were required to anticipate the additional time required for mailing reports to and from Bosnia when we wrote reports during the mission. While writing these reports, we maximized our efficiency by using electronic mail to send and receive drafts until everyone agreed we had a final copy. Only then was the report printed, signed and sent through the postal system.

Logistics

On July 16, 1999, 10th Signal Battalion (Provisional) was born. This unit was separate from 10th Signal Battalion; it had its own unit-identity code, which caused certain logistical requirements.

Three of the four companies (Headquarters and Headquarters Company, B and C) were required to equip TF Drum Voice. This mandated that these companies’ property books had to be split. During the months preceding the SFOR deployment, company commanders had to conduct inventories and lateral transfers to create different property books.

Also, the TF Drum commanders had to resubmit new signature cards. We were required to split out the equipment contained on the unit-level logistics system-ground computers for HHC, B and C companies. The motorpool representatives for these companies hand-carried their equipment data via floppy disks and loaded their data into the ULLS-G computers provided to them in Bosnia.

Upon redeployment, we had to establish a date when TF Eagle Voice would no longer submit any parts requisitions. Any parts requests after the cutoff date were called forward to Fort Drum and were ordered under dummy bumper numbers. In this way, we created a clean break and ensured there wouldn’t be any excess Class IX parts arriving in-country that wouldn’t fill a demand.

Similarly, our communications-electronics repair facility staff hand-carried data forward to Bosnia to support the forward element. One of the most difficult problems associated with splitting the C&E shop was splitting the authorized stockage list. We had to anticipate the parts demands that would be encountered by the forces in Bosnia. Furthermore, we had to anticipate demands towards the end of the deployment. Upon redeployment, we combined the two ASLs into one while minimizing the amount of excess Class IX repair parts.

Network engineering

Although I don’t intend to go in-depth into the MSE networks at either location, I will say we didn’t install a reachback link from the MSE network in Bosnia to Sanctuary CP at Fort Drum. Each task force installed MSE networks independently of each other. As the reader is probably aware, a division Signal battalion is manned and equipped to install a single network at any one time. During this split-based operation, we were required to execute – and we executed – two separate MSE networks in different regions of the world simultaneously.

Furthermore, 10th Signal Battalion is equipped with only one network-management tool and one network-planning tool. We anticipated the requirement for two sets of the equipment, as we knew we were to install, operate and maintain two distinct MSE networks simultaneously. Through discussions with Communications-Electronics Command, we were able to secure a second, older model NPT we used for frequency and line-of-sight planning for TF Drum Voice. The NMT, on the other hand, was much more difficult to obtain. Through coordination with the XVIII Airborne Corps’ G-6, we were able to secure an NMT to use during the exercise support we provided at Fort Drum.

In the end, equipment failures with the NMT prevented us from using this device. We worked around this shortcoming by using a commercial-software product known as What’s Up Gold. This software package provides a graphical interface to a ping program as well as other diagnostic tools that replicate NMT’s tools. These tools include throughput analysis and Standard Network-Management Protocol.

We set the program up to regularly ping all packet switches in our network. This method alerted us in systems control immediately when we had an MSE switch failure, but What’s Up Gold wasn’t as capable as NMT in telling us when a link between switches was out. Similarly, we set up a second laptop running What’s Up Gold on the unclassified non-secure Internet protocol routing network that we had extended throughout our network. We configured this laptop to ping all hosts connected to the unclassified NIPRNET, as well as the unclassified side of all the network-encryption system devices. This allowed us to maintain a constant vigilance over both networks.

Finally, when concerns were raised as to the data network’s performance, we used the throughput-analysis tools embedded in the What’s Up Gold program to identify bottlenecks in our data-transport systems.

Legal

As I mentioned, with 10th Signal Battalion (Provisional) a new unit was organized. This unit was, in the Uniform Code of Military Justice arena, a completely separate unit from 10th Signal Battalion. I, as the senior officer, was empowered with UCMJ authority over the soldiers assigned to 10th Signal Battalion (Provisional). As the 10th Signal Battalion’s XO, I continually tried to meet my commander’s intent. However, I as the battalion commander had to be extremely careful about discussions concerning legal issues so as not to violate the regulations concerning undue command influence. This was a very narrow line to walk and was undoubtedly the most difficult part of the split-based operations from my perspective.

Also, Company B deployed almost the entire company and left only a rear-detachment force that was organized under 10th Signal Battalion (Provisional). The senior soldier for this organization was a sergeant first class, so the HHC commander adjudicated all legal issues generated within Company B at the company-grade level. Company C, on the other hand, only deployed about 50 percent of the company and left a sizeable force. The rear-detachment commander for this unit was a first lieutenant. Although the officer was on orders as the company commander of that unit under the provisional battalion, all UCMJ authority was withdrawn from the lieutenant, and responsibility for adjudicating company-grade actions was given to the Company A commander. This was done so seasoned and experienced company commanders would be adjudicating all issues at the company-grade level.

Coordination

The key to success in coordinating two task forces, physically separated over many miles with distinctly different missions, is cross-talk. Although we had videoteleconferencing systems available to us other units may not have, I would suggest the same results could be achieved by conducting regular conference calls with speakerphones.

We conducted four VTC sessions each week. On Tuesdays we had the VTC suite reserved for a three-hour block for our battalion training and command-and-staff meeting. We executed the meetings in the same manner as when we were all at homestation. We used e-mail to send slides and data from one task force to the other. On Wednesdays we held a one-hour VTC session in which the deputy G-6, battalion commander and myself discussed AWE planning issues. Woods also hosted a one-hour VTC session with family-support-group members to ensure they were kept updated about their spouses’ activities and to give family members an opportunity to raise issues.

Although initially this seemed like overkill, it paid us dividends in the end. Both task forces were constantly aware of what the other unit was doing. The two separate staffs were in constant contact with their counterparts to coordinate actions. We used e-mail extensively to conduct virtual meetings to resolve issues and work background issues before the VTC sessions.

Lastly, we used the Defense Switched Network, but the time difference between locations minimized DSN’s usefulness and utility. I spoke with the battalion commander daily, if not via a DSN phone call then virtually via e-mail. I ensured Woods was kept abreast of all activities happening with the task force so he could command-and-control his entire unit.

To maintain mission focus, the battalion S-3 took on the role as the XO (forward) and supervised the staff’s actions in Bosnia. I didn’t become involved in coordinating any actions that were entirely Bosnia-related. However, I continued to supervise and synchronize the staff on any actions that concerned the entire battalion.

Challenges

As I said earlier, I was in a unique position. Officially I was the commander of a battalion. Realistically, though, I was the caretaker of Woods’ battalion and an extension of his intent. My greatest challenge was to identify my left and right limits. This was a painstaking process, especially in the first three months of split-based operations. Also, the company commanders were confused about the command relationships. Did they report to me as the commander on the ground or to Woods, who was dislocated by 6,000 miles?

Finally, the fact that the battalion’s entire command structure (battalion commander, command sergeant major and executive officer) were all new to the battalion and had had less than 30 days together when we initiated split operations enhanced the problems. We resolved this confusion through trial and error and by maintaining continual communications with each other.

For the most part, I functioned as the caretaker of Woods’ battalion and executor of his intent. I functioned as the commander to make routine day-to-day decisions that kept the battalion operating. These actions were almost entirely in the logistical, maintenance and personnel arenas. As I’ve discussed previously, I was the defacto commander for all legal and UCMJ activities. Training remained totally in Woods’ purview through the weekly training VTCs. During exercise-support planning, Woods was commander during the MDMP, received all the briefings, provided guidance and made decisions. However, during the actual execution of the exercise support, I functioned as the commander on the ground.

Recommendations

For any Signal unit finding itself in similar circumstances, I’d make the following recommendations. First, carefully consider how you’ll split out the personnel on your staff sections. Carefully consider the individuals’ strengths and weaknesses and compare that information with the expected missions for each task force.

Regardless of which task force has the officer and which has the NCO, both task forces will be comprised of ad hoc staff primaries. Both task forces’ leaders should schedule and execute as many staff-integration sessions as possible. These sessions should include execution of an entire MDMP process.

Doctrinally, the XO will become the leader, and possibly commander, of one of the task forces. The S-3 is a good choice to function as the XO of the ad hoc staff that accompanies the battalion commander. If the battalion XO becomes the battalion commander of the newly created task force, consideration should be given to designating another officer to assume the XO duties. Although this may not be possible, as the unit may not have an officer to assign to those duties, understand that there’s much stress placed upon the one officer trying to perform both commander and XO functions.

One of our decisions paying us great dividends was that we identified early what soldiers were going to be assigned to which task force and then we created new rating schemes. Also, we completed all officer and NCO evaluation reports 10th Mountain Division generates. We ensured that to the maximum extent possible a soldier’s entire rating chain was entirely in the same task force. These decisions and actions enabled us to finish evaluation reports in a timely manner. The separate rating schemes also ensured each soldier was provided the maximum opportunity for evaluation.

The final recommendation I’ll make is in the area where we had the most difficulty: the official position of the XO and the chain of command with the company commanders that are part of the XO’s task force. Decisions will need to be made early on as to whether the unit will be formed as a provisional battalion, and include all the implications that decision entails. I don’t feel that the battalion commander, myself and the company commanders – in both task forces – had a clear understanding of the chain of command and our relationships with each other. I think if we had dedicated some time early on to establish these relationships, the first several months of the deployment would have been much easier.

Conclusions

As current Signal doctrine indicates, a division Signal battalion isn’t manned nor equipped to execute two dislocated missions simultaneously. However, as I’ve indicated, this can be accomplished; 10th Signal Battalion very successfully accomplished it July 1999 to March 2000. Careful prior planning, a good analysis of the two disjointed missions and thoughtful development of the two task forces made this a manageable event.

MAJ Girard is 10th Mountain Division’s division automation-management officer. His previous assignments include a year as 10th Signal Battalion’s executive officer, which encompassed the eight months outlined in this article in which the battalion operated as split task forces to support Bosnia and AWE preparation at Fort Drum. Girard has a master’s degree in artificial intelligence from Duke University and has been developing artificial-intelligence applications since 1984.

Acronym QuickScan
ASL – authorized stockage list
AWE – advanced warfighting experiment
BCT – brigade-combat team
C&E – communications and electronics
CP – command post
DSN – Defense Switched Network
FM – field manual
HHC – Headquarters and Headquarters Company
JCF – joint-contingency force
JRTC – Joint Readiness Training Center
MDMP – military decision-making process
MSE – mobile-subscriber equipment
NCO – noncommissioned officer
NIPRNET – non-secure Internet protocol router network
NMT – network-management tool
NPT – network-planning tool
SFOR – stabilization force
TF – task force
UCMJ – Uniform Code of Military Justice
UIC – unit-identity code
ULLS-G – unit-level logistics system-ground
VTC – videoteleconference(ing)
XO – executive officer

dividing rule

Back issues on-line | "Most requested" articles | Article search | Subscriptions | Writer's guide

Army Communicator is part of Regimental Division, a division of Office Chief of Signal.

This is an offical U.S. Army Site |

04/04/12

This is an offical U.S. Army Site |