March 25, 2010

Staunton-based 116th Brigade Combat Team fields high tech command and control systems

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

BLACKSTONE, Va. — The Virginia National Guard’s Staunton-based 116th Brigade Combat Team conducted a training exercise at Fort Pickett March 20-23 that is the second of three events to complete the fielding of the U. S. Army’s Command Post of the Future command and control system.  CPOF is part of the Army's Battle Command System and gives commanders and their staffs the ability to plan, prepare, rehearse, execute and assess operations using tactical digital networks over long distances using satellite communications. CPOF is in use in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the 116th is fielding the state-of-the-art system at the same time as active duty Army units.

 

New satellite systems enable the 116th Brigade Combat Team to communicate and share data with units all over Virginia and all over the world. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) Click HERE to download a high resolution photo.

“When I used this system in Iraq, I never thought I would see it again,” said Lt. Col. Allan Carter, the operations officer for the 116th. “Now I have seen it again, and we have it in the Virginia Guard.”

Carter said he remembered years ago how the Guard was a low priority for equipment fielding and was operating with outdated equipment, but that is no longer the case. The digital information systems used by 116th personnel during their tour of duty in Iraq in 2007 are the same systems they are now using in Virginia.

“This equipment puts us on an even footing with our active duty counterparts,” said Lt. Col. Bill Zana, commander of the Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Brigade Combat Team. “If we get deployed, the fact that we have this equipment in advance saves us time at the mobilization station and makes us more proficient when we go.”

The final event for the fielding will take place in June at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., and will be the culmination of more than 18 months of fielding different pieces of equipment and smaller information systems that now operate in concert under CPOF. The system is used at the division, brigade and battalion level and enables commanders and their staffs to easily collaborate and share ideas, and even conduct “virtual” meetings where attendees can easily share maps, data and unit positions to create a common operating picture in real time.

The CPOF is a “system of systems,” Carter explained. Different warfighting functions like intelligence, fires, sustainment and command and control have sub-systems for tracking information, and CPOF ties them all together to give the commander and the staff a crystal-clear picture of what is going on in an operation.

 

The 116th Brigade Combat Team field test the new Command Post of the Future system March 20-23 at Fort Pickett. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) Click HERE to download a high resolution photo.

One of the challenges has been making sure that the equipment the brigade received a year ago is functioning properly and integrates into the CPOF, Carter said. The fielding has included new vehicles, power generators, satellite communication systems and even the tents used to set the system up in a field environment.

Approximately 300 Soldiers took part in the training event. Along with personnel from the brigade headquarters, Soldiers from the Fredericksburg-based 116th Brigade Support Battalion’s military intelligence company and signal company were on hand to establish the full brigade tactical operations center. In addition, command and control elements from the brigade’s battalions based in Winchester, Lynchburg, Danville, Hampton and Portsmouth were operating the battalion-level systems.

Along with the equipment fielding, the brigade has been conducting staff training at both the brigade and battalion level with the goal of having battalion-level staffs validated for possible combat operations at the end of the exercise in June.

“Trained battle staffs can plug into any operation at the division, brigade or battalion level to command and control any operation, whether it be a federal mission overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan or a stateside mission to support of civil authorities,” Carter said.

The exercise at Fort Pickett tested the ability of the brigades and battalions to set up their CPOF in a field environment, but the systems will also be available for use during day-to-day operations. Not only can the brigade use the CPOF to communicate with units in Iraq or Afghanistan from their headquarters in Staunton, they can use the systems to communicate and share information with their battalions across the state on a drill weekend. The system could also be put to use during a period of state active duty to help provide command and control for units assisting state and local emergency response organizations.

“Next month if we have a flood emergency or if we have a wildfire emergency this summer, we have immediate dividends that are paid by having all the systems, infrastructure and architecture in place,” Zana said. “The more Soldiers we have trained, the easier it will be to deploy these systems.”

The fielding of such high tech equipment is also a morale booster for younger Virginia Guard Soldiers used to having the latest and greatest technology around them, Carter said. Soldiers are also getting trained on the equipment at Army schools, then coming back and putting their skills to use for Virginia.

“We had a private set up the power supply layout for our generators based on the training he just received,” Carter said.

“Some of my hard hitters here are specialists and young sergeants who ‘get it’ and there is an appeal for them in dealing with the systems and the architecture because they are able to develop and take initiative to expand the unit’s capability,” Zana said. “It is exciting to see that.”

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