No Time for Platoon ARTEPS in a Mechanized Battalion
4th in a series by Tom Rozman
A mechanized infantry battalion at a major installation in the United States was engaged in its train up to its projected ARTEP (Army Training and Evaluation Program) that would evaluate its operational and combat readiness.
These were sustained deployment and field operating exercises that comprehensively examined the battalion’s capabilities. The responsibility to conduct the exercises rested with the command echelon two levels above the battalion.
An evaluation team would be announced and would subsequently execute a “no notice” alert of the battalion that would initiate an extensive ARTEP at some future point.
The battalion had an approximate window of time to refine its training and conduct its internal squad and platoon ARTEPs. But, the time window would be tight and scheduling the support and terrain on the installation for such exercises was a planning and logistical challenge given the often changing schedules of combat battalions in garrison and competition among the units for the terrain. Achieving a high quality program that got the job done, that could still be flexible enough to be accomplished around an ever changing unit schedule, would be a challenge.
The battalion’s Plans, Operations and Training Officer for Air Operations (S-3 Air), the deputy S-3, who handled such battalion training planning had developed a plan leveraging all post and unit leadership and training support resources that could accomplish the battalions small unit evaluations within the tight timeframe. The base concept was to use a deployed higher unit format in opposing force configuration to deploy multiple units simultaneously with prepared evaluators. Specifically the deployments would be the squads by rifle company in sequence, the four mortar platoons on one exercise—in the case of the nine rifle platoons a more complex two day approach creating a shadow opposing force battalion using the battalion’s scout and mortar platoons as opposing force against which the battalion with it three rifle companies under command would deploy. The battalion’s rifle units would deploy under their companies with missions such that assigned areas of operation in effect created lanes where in the platoons would move through the assignment to be evaluated against a live opposing force with evaluators accompanying.
The plan was ambitious but work had already begun on training and familiarizing the evaluation teams and putting all elements of the plan in place.
The battalion commander was being briefed on the concept, its development and progress. He had early approved the concept and ordered it to proceed.
The squad ARTEPs for the battalion’s 27 rifle squads and four scout squads would be proof of principle. They went extremely well. The squads benefitted greatly from the exercises and lessons learned. Next the support platoons—the four mortar platoons being the most ambitious.
The support platoon exercises further underscored the success of the approach. They were very successful. Then, changeable schedule dynamics threatened the most important phase of the internal unit ARTEPS—the 9 mechanized rifle platoons, the primary combat power of the battalion. An un-programmed multi-service joint exercise deployment had developed to another large reservation about 500 miles distant. The brigade was a component of an airborne corps that was the country’s contingency first to go “fire brigade.” The time loss of the two week plus deployment and the phased transport on heavy equipment transporters of the battalion’s armored vehicles on both ends seemed to negate the ability to execute the rifle platoon phase in the remaining time.
It appeared that the rifle platoons would not be evaluated before the battalion was alerted for its battalion level ARTEP. But the S-3 Air who was also involved in the battalion’s deployment and operational planning for the joint exercise noticed that there was an almost two day window after deployment and on delivery of the battalion’s armored vehicles that, given the format planned for the rifle platoon ARTEPS might allow them to proceed with a few modifications like the last phase of the exercise moving the units into the joint exercises assembly areas on time for the exercise. Because the company command echelon and battalion headquarters would be tactically active throughout the ARTEP, the transition into the joint exercise would be almost seamless.
The S-3 Air briefed the S-3 on his findings and a following briefing occurred with the battalion commander. Time was tight. The battalion commander agreed that though ambitious, the plan was entirely feasible if vehicle transport worked on time. He made the decision to proceed. It is worth noting that in my experience there are more than a few officers in such situation that would not have taken such risk.
In the event, the movement went almost to plan sufficiently that the ARTEP was conducted almost flawlessly with immense benefit to the battalion in its following battalion ARTEP. And, taking advantage of the new and unfamiliar terrain on the exercise installation only added to the benefits for training. As well, because from the outset the battalion’s internal unit ARTEP Program was an integrated ”battalion Team” approach with all members of the team informed and integral in the developing planning and execution process—it was “everyone’s” ARTEP Program.
The rifle platoon ARTEPS proved immensely successful. They added immeasurable confidence at every level of the battalion on abilities and capabilities and early identified areas that needed further training and attention in the short time remaining to the battalion’s event.
Clearly, through good planning, a team approach, opportunity for all to engage and shine, and most importantly decisive leadership, a clear success was achieved in a dynamic, complex and high visibility situation. It is worth noting that a mechanized battalion at this time was an organization that had over 900 soldiers assigned with some 200 wheeled and tracked vehicles ranging up to 27 tons, over 1,500 small and large caliber weapons, a vast amount of ancillary equipment, particularly maintenance and recovery—it was a very large and complex organization indeed, making the leadership accomplishment the more remarkable.