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Lance Cpl. Randall Harness, a communications repairman with 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, helps Lance Cpl. Adam Smith, a blue force tracker in 3rd LAR’s combat operations center, troubleshoot BFT equipment during Command Post Exercise Menacing Name, a COC training exercise, at the battalion’s light armored vehicle ramp June 4. Maintaining equipment is essential for COC personnel to gather and store intelligence reports and other useful information about their area of operations.

Photo by Pfc. Sarah Anderson

‘Wolf Pack’ Marines conduct command post exercise

11 Jun 2010 | Cpl. Nicholas M. Dunn

A combat operations center is a vital asset to units wherever and whenever they train or deploy by allowing the digital collection, processing, and dissemination of tactical data.

During Command Post Exercise Menacing Name on June 4, roughly 50 Marines from 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion were immersed in a COC environment at their light armored vehicle ramp through an exercise that challenged the Marines to work with the new information technology used in a forward-deployed, battalion-level COC during several combat operations scenarios, said Staff Sgt. Charles Creer, 3rd LAR’s assistant operations chief.

“What we’re really trying to accomplish here is brilliance in the basics by conducting a suite of command and control procedures and maneuvers while practicing the basic flow of a COC,” said Creer, a native of Salem, Utah. “We’ve got a lot of new Marines – a lot of new faces – and many of them are using the majority of the systems for the first time.”

CPX Menacing Name, which sardonically derives its handle from the way military exercises and operations are often named, was assisted by instructors from the Battle Simulation Center and Marine Air-Ground Task Force Integrated Systems Training Center, known as MISTC.

The first half of Menacing Name mainly consisted of monitoring the operational forces, which were controlled by 3rd LAR Marines through a combat simulator at MISTC, as they moved into their battle positions, Creer said. This provided COC personnel with the opportunity to practice using the equipment, communicating effectively and familiarizing themselves with basic COC operations.

“This is the first time we’ve held a CPX this robust as a battalion using outside entities,” he said. “These systems have been around for a while, but we’re getting full immersion so we can get everyone familiar with COC operations.”

Creer said although the COC is meant to provide seamless communication and enhanced situational awareness, setting up and operating one is not without its complications.

“Comm is always an issue,” he said. “We had to overcome a lot of adversity using the [Digital Switch Unit].”

Sgt. Earl Jay, 3rd LAR’s data noncommissioned officer, said DSU enables COC personnel to communicate using a Voice over Internet Protocol intercom system. However, the setup and maintenance of the DSU can be complex and time consuming.

Another issue was making sure the equipment was properly maintained during the exercise. The complex relied on two generators to maintain power and climate control, which is vital to preserving electrical equipment.

“The air needs to be cool enough so the extreme heat doesn’t fry our gear,” said Lance Cpl. Travis Tilseth, an LAV crewman and Apple Valley, Minn., native who served as the COC’s watch noncommissioned officer. “The good news is, as long as the generators are fueled and maintained, they won’t quit. In Iraq, we kept one of these running the entire seven months we were there. We never had to shut it down.”

On top of the initial obstacles, the COC Marines encountered a new set of operational challenges during the second half of the exercise. Shortly after midday, one of the LAV platoons encountered a simulated improvised explosive device chain. The situation was resolved quickly, but roughly a half-hour later, more bad news filtered in.

“Attention in the COC,” said 1st Lt. Austin Murnane, the battalion’s assistant operations officer, who served as the watch commander for Menacing Name. “A friendly aircraft just went down.”

As LAV platoons moved in to secure the notional crash site, reports of enemy small arms fire began to trickle in. Additionally, there were two friendly casualties at the crash who needed to be evacuated and given immediate medical attention. Fortunately, the battalion was able to accomplish their mission without suffering any additional simulated casualties. By 2 p.m., CPX Menacing Name ended and was considered a successful operation.

“I think the Marines learned a lot here,” said Capt. Oscar E. Rodriguez, Jr., 3rd LAR’s operations officer. “We’re beginning to develop our techniques and enhance our proficiency by utilizing these new systems.

“This is our first time setting up and operating an exercise like this,” added the native of Laredo, Texas. “We anticipated some comm difficulty, as well as other challenges, but this was a good opportunity to identify our friction points. Overall it was a good first step, and it’s definitely something we’ll continue to build on.”

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