Formation and Training of an Infantry Company for Task Force Kunduz
General Remarks Early 2010, 2nd/Mechanized Infantry Demonstration Battalion 92 was tasked with forming and training a reinforced line company for Task Force Kunduz. The battalion's task to form Task Force Kunduz from July 2011 on had already loomed earlier, the battalion, however, initially was tied by numerous other tasks.
Adoption of the Company Structure Gradually bringing together about 130 women and men as well as numerous combat support forces within less than one year and their preparation for deployment was a challenging task. Initially, an organizational challenge in this context was the new company structure. The organic A-Platoon of 2nd/Mechanized Infantry Demonstration Battalion 92 under the command of First Lieutenant (OF-1) B. was integrated into the future 2nd/Task Force Mazar-E-Sharif whose main body consisted of 4th/Light Infantry Battalion 292 in Donaueschingen. In turn, one infantry platoon of 2nd/Light Infantry Battalion 291 from ILLKIRCH (FRA) under the command of First Lieutenant H. was subordinated to 2 nd/Mechanized Infantry Demonstration Battalion 92 for accomplishing the tasks of 2nd/Task Force Kunduz from July 2011 on. These structural changes automatically entailed tasks the company had to compensate "in passing". Lessons learned in Afghanistan in recent years have proved that the line companies' structure on deployments – company command, two infantry platoons and one mechanized infantry platoon – is appropriate. From the company's perspective, however, pulling an entire platoon out of the overall structure of the company is more than merely shifting personnel. The atmospheric vacuum created by this structural change had to be filled with life immediately, or in other words: a new company structure had to develop, and not only on paper. This entailed a number of difficulties at the outset which were not that much due to both parties' self-image based on the pride they take in their respective service. First and foremost a look at the map of Germany is recommended to understand the initial distance on the personal level: ILLKIRCH is located 3 km south of STRASBOURG and thus approximately 700 km – about ten hours by bus – southwest of MUNSTER. Subsequently, this geographic hurdle implied that one could only afford to "fly in" the light infantrymen from ILLKIRCH for joint training highlights to spare them the strain of permanently being away from their home base. However, this in turn had the consequence that neither the company commander at the tactical level nor the first sergeant at the interpersonal one were able to immediately put their marks.
Foci of Training During preparation for deployment as infantry company, scenarios in the context of the comprehensive counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy had to be mastered in addition to the training segments covering the classical composite force operation which is very important for operations in Afghanistan, too. This was not always easy, and it was necessary to give subordinate soldiers confidence in their actions by means of information and multifarious training, including the ISAF pocket card. Furthermore, specific training elements of high importance for Afghanistan had to be included, like behavior under IED threat, MEDEVAC request, or mounted and dismounted urban combat. There were only a handful of soldiers in the company with operational experience from Afghanistan. Therefore, self-reliant familiarization with - for many leaders - new, Afghanistan-specific subjects and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) was required just as the subsequent planning, organization and conduct of training. Of course, we had to take care that training on specific weapon systems, as for instance the FLW 100/200 remote-controlled light weapon station, the automatic grenade launcher (AGL), the G3 DMR, or the G82 were not neglected. In addition, a need for organization primarily ensued as to a plethora of parallel requirements: like the gradual inflow of support forces, achieving the required vaccination status, preparation of personnel documents to be carried along, dealing with materiel shortages and vacancies caused by personnel on training courses, filtering high information density of Lessons Learned/Best Practice papers, limited allocation of training areas and ammunition, familiarization with communications and command and control assets, as well as to demonstrating performance under the directive on training and maintenance of individual basic skills. The risk of a disproportion between organizational effort and training period was omnipresent. Direct relations of the subordinate units with other units were very useful since for instance materiel and equipment available to a limited extent only could be made available temporarily for own purposes while avoiding bureaucratic mechanisms. In addition, setting clear priorities was required to avoid getting lost in details and duplication of efforts. In our company, the company commander set the priorities in preparation for deployment as follows: (1) near-operational training, (2) excellent physical fitness, and (3) intense medical training.
Armor Firing Simulation Center One of the major training events prior to deployment was the rotation at Armor Firing Simulation Center in MUNSTER from 21 to 25 March 2011 where the training status at platoon level was to be consolidated and raised to company level in the course of the week. The greatest difference in comparison with previous rotations at the Armor Firing Simulation Center was that all training segments without exception were conducted under live firing conditions. The initial worry that due to safety requirements the training might have restricting effects on the combat scenario as demonstrated by previous firing exercises at the Infantry Training Center in Hammelburg, during platoon training was not confirmed and was entirely invalidated during final live firing by the company. No matter with whom we talked within the company, everybody was favorably impressed. Overall organization was well structured as also were the individual training elements conducted and evaluated at the various levels in a constructive manner. The week at the Armor Firing Simulation Center was structured as follows: The platoons with their subordinate combat service support elements had to arrive by Monday morning at their training stations to be trained alternately from Monday to Wednesday in the scenarios (1) relief operation, (2) ambush, and (3) area seizure. Night firing times on Monday and Wednesday were used to consolidate the respective subjects also under conditions of limited visibility. On these evenings, the platoons after completion of all measures moved into the assembly area of the firing range where they were received the next morning by the exercise control section of the Armor Firing Simulation Center. The tactical company command utilized the platoon training period from Monday to Wednesday mainly for training command post functions in the Trauen Camp themselves. Based on the sand table briefing held by Armored Firing Simulation Center on Tuesday morning on the company live firing exercise to take place on Thursday and Friday, subsequently the order for situation development and its methodological implementation in the terrain were developed. In retrospect we can say that an issue of order prepared over a period of two days does not imperatively constitute the ideal basis for a better field order in stride. In this case, less might possibly have even been more! Nonetheless, preparation of the company order for relief from Barbaradorf proved to be an appropriate platform for introducing a future-oriented allocation of tasks within the command post. The subsequent live firing exercise on Thursday and Friday simply was a humdinger. A few words on the setting: 2nd/Inf Task Force Trauen – reduced by the mechanized infantry platoon – at the outset of the exercise secured at Combat Outpost (COP). At that time, mechanized infantry platoon monitored from an Observation Post (OP) and in the first phase of situation development was attacked by Insurgents. Mechanized infantry platoon destroyed Insurgents with its main weapon system; also artillery and Close Combat Attack (CCA) were employed. All these combat operations were controlled by the responsible tactical platoon leader and used life ammunition. Immediately after Insurgents destruction, the following radio-transmitted order by the battalion was issued to the company (abridged quote): "Ambush against ISR forces while on patrol in Barbaradorf. Casualties and materiel breakdowns. Enemy follows to destroy ISR forces. 2nd/TF TRAUEN attacks immediately with all forces on Barbaradorf to relieve encircled forces." Subsequently, the company commander for the first time during predeployment training had the opportunity to lead all elements of his company, including combat support, under live firing conditions. "Live firing" in this case in addition to real breaching charges employed by the engineers in the locality and real employment of artillery using Joint Fire Support Teams also implied tactical employment of the armored bridgelayer, the Tactical PsyOps Team, and the Mobile Emergency Physician Team. Since during this live firing exercise no classical target sector markers did exist along the firing range that had to be clung to slavishly, action from the individual soldier up to the tactical approach taken by the company commander could be attuned to operational doctrine. Just like on deployment! Here, the often quoted principle "Train as you fight" pertained indeed. As far as raising own soldiers' awareness for friendly fire is concerned, there is hardly anything better than exercising mounted and dismounted combat at company level in urban terrain under the conditions of live firing and an effective range of almost 360 degrees. In summary, the five-day rotation at Armor Firing Simulation Center from the company's perspective can be rated as excellent. The training was a targeted preparation for the upcoming challenges on deployment and marked a further step towards achieving full operational capability (FOC) at all echelons of command.
Internal and External Follow-on Training Numerous support forces, like for instance [...] during preparation for deployment offered both to the battalion and the company leadership to conduct follow-on training, an offer that was extensively made use of; not least because Mechanized Infantry Demonstration Battalion 92 had not been deployed as one to Afghanistan before. In addition to an early deployment training seminar and the supplementary CPCM (Conflict Prevention and Crisis Management) training dealing with subjects like [...], the battalion planned and organized officer professional development/NCO development events on topics like [...]. Furthermore, weekly updates of the operational picture of own and other forces in Afghanistan were provided. At company level it was important to identify own followon training requirements and conduct appropriate events. In this context, the company commander regularly scheduled a usually 30-minute NCO development event regularly held on Friday. The topics ranged from Intercultural Awareness [...]. Also NCOs had the opportunity to select and give short presentations on topics identified as important; these included for instance [...]. In order to put each soldier in the position of being "mentally enriched" in his/her day-to-day environment, we developed intracompany learning sheets with common ISAF abbreviations and posted them throughout the company facility. Moreover, a pocket card, also developed within the company, was handed out to each soldier depicting schematically the region around Camp KUNDUZ including important reporting points, lines of communication (LOCs) and localities. In addition, important information and situation plots were collected and displayed in the company's "Afghanistan Room" set up for the preparation for deployment. The battalion uploaded a "Knowledge Base Afghanistan" to the public network providing a range of digital information on the country of deployment and determined SOPs for deployment which were integrated early into the companies' and platoons' training. Beyond that, intra-company standards were set, too. To give but one example: [...]
Fact Finding in the Country of Deployment In September 2010, Commander, Mechanized Infantry Demonstration Battalion 92, Lieutenant Colonel Lutz K., and his company commanders undertook a one-week fact-finding mission (FFM) in Afghanistan. Accompaniment of the two infantry company commanders on site at that time, including stays at choke points like the police headquarters, elevations 431 and 432, as well as J92 in Kunduz, revealed that operations in the Kunduz region were primarily planned and conducted at company level. In the case of enemy contact, tactical combat management was a formidable challenge to the company commander. In addition to commanding own maneuver platoons, this included for instance request and/or coordination and employment of Close Air Support (CAS), indirect fire, snipers, reconnaissance UAVs, and medical forces. Furthermore, there was frequent cooperation with the U.S. Route Clearance Package (RCP) and, of course, the Afghan security forces like the Afghan National Police (ANP) or Afghan National Army (ANA). During the fact-finding mission it was striking that there seemed to be a certain tension between the soldiers employed outside and inside the camp. Approximately 80 % of the just under 1,500 Germans deployed in Kunduz leave the camp only on the occasion of their flight to and from the country of deployment.
Assessment by the Company Commander Reinforced 2nd/Mechanized Infantry Demonstration Battalion 92 was well prepared for accomplishing its task as 2nd/Task Force Kunduz in Afghanistan. Training had achieved a high level, and it was with good conscience that I released my soldiers for their "cuddle week" (seven days special leave before the beginning of deployment). In retrospect, it should be noted that time and again a considerable outside pressure on the company could be perceived during preparation for deployment. As described under (2) and (3), this above all resulted from organizational requirements arising in particular from the continuous in- and outflow of materiel from the Bundeswehr pool of materiel for preparation for deployment; the need to flexibly select personnel for training courses during ongoing preparation for deployment; and the work loads of the dispensary related to the preparation of the "Medical Information for Personnel File, also Change Notice" (Document Type 90/5) and the associated vaccinations. A better understanding and taking greater account of the burdens to all echelons of the company already during their preparation for deployment are not only desirable but imperative. At least at times, I could not spare my company the much-quoted "mission before the mission" although weekends by and large were free. My respect is due to my soldiers mastering the strains of this early phase with flying colors and whose motivation and commitment with respect to the forthcoming deployment were outstanding.
Authors: Marcel Bohnert, Friedrich Schröder, Floris Dohmeyer
published (DEU) in: Der Panzergrenadier, 29, 2011, Seiten 61 bis 65
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