Regimental Training Facility Brings Unique SOF Resources Together
By Maj. David S. Clukey
Originally published in the July-September 2011 edition of Special Warfare
The United States Army Special Forces Command, or USASFC, established a regimental pre-mission training, or PMT, facility at Fort Bliss, Texas, in order to better accomplish its statutory obligations to train, equip and organize forces in support of the geographic combatant commands, or GCCs. During the last 11 months, the initiative has enabled seven special operations task forces, or SOTFs, to achieve their pre-deployment training objectives in preparation for overseas contingency operations. The unique combination of facilities and special-operations-unique resources allows SOTFs to focus on meeting their training requirements vs. dedicating the majority of their effort to creating an adequate training environment.
Prior to USAFC's investment in a dedicated training facility, SOTF-level PMT was conducted at various locations throughout the continental United States. That presented problems in three areas. First, there was no continuity or uniformity in the development and execution of the PMT across the regiment. SOTFs would continually identify and coordinate new locations to accomplish PMT. That approach offered no opportunity for developing the training sites for future use or establishing enduring relationships within the different areas.
Second, each SOTF was spending too much time planning and developing those training venues, often reinventing what other units or previous rotations had already accomplished. Finally, it was a costly endeavor: Few training facilities in the U.S. are resourced to address the unique training requirements of SOF. In order to remedy the deficiency, SOTFs would negotiate contracts, rent and purchase supplies and equipment, and ship organic special-operations-unique weapons, vehicles and equipment from home station. The average overall combined cost to the regiment for SOTF PMTs from 2002 to 2010 for contracts, travel, shipping, rentals and supplies was $28 million.
In 2008, operational commitments and the demand for SF in support of GCCs, specifically in the U.S. Central Command operational theater, continued to increase. However, no dedicated training facility or mechanism was in place to account for SF PMT. SF required an exclusive training site resourced to permit SOTFs to train collectively and to receive proper validation by their parent groups before deploying to combat theaters. The solution was to create a USASFC-consolidated site dedicated to SOTF PMT. That would save the SF groups from spending too much time on resourcing, planning and developing the training venues, thus enabling SOTFs to focus their PMT efforts on the actual mission scenarios and training for the mission-essential task list. Consolidating resources for PMT as a recurring action at a particular site, rather than going to multiple venues, would dramatically reduce the overall cost of PMT for the regiment and gain significant efficiencies.
In 2009, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, or USASOC, identified training in support of named operations as his number-one priority.1 The USASFC commander directed the research, identification and development of an SF regimental training facility in the western United States. The selection of the site was to be determined by the similarity of the site's environment to that of the area of responsibility, or AOR, of the U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM; the ability of the site to accommodate training for a SOTF-sized element; and guaranteed priority of use of the site's SF-specific training facilities. After considerable analysis, the choices were narrowed to three sites: Fort Bliss, Texas; Dugway, Utah; and Guernsey, Wyo. Of the three, Fort Bliss presented the best environmental factors: it had a supportive garrison command and possessed existing infrastructure available to the regiment to support training-area development.
USASFC invested resources to develop a training capability at Fort Bliss and collaborated with USASOC and the Fort Bliss garrison command to develop formal support arrangements. The agreements formally established the PMT site. USASFC has manned and equipped the PMT site to support two SOTFs training simultaneously. USASFC has assigned a complement of special-operations vehicles,2 tactical-support vehicles and associated vehicle-mounted weapon systems and communications equipment to Fort Bliss. USASFC manned the PMT site with a SOF cell that provides the institutional knowledge and professional subject-matter expertise needed to explain SF's unique training requirements to the Fort Bliss garrison command, tenant units and range supervisors.
The SOF cell provides SF commanders the collective training resources necessary to produce qualified and validated SOTFs that are fully prepared to deploy for combat in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations throughout the world.3 The SOF cell serves as the principle liaison element between the USASFC headquarters at Fort Bragg, the seven SF groups and the Fort Bliss garrison command, tenant units and range supervisors. The cell deconflicts, coordinates and synchronizes all regimental training conducted at Fort Bliss and manages the maintenance and operational readiness of all USASFC vehicles and equipment assigned to Fort Bliss. The commander of the SOF cell is a senior SF warrant officer. An SF master sergeant serves as the noncommissioned officer in charge. The remainder of SOF cell consists of two SF operations sergeants, a maintenance senior warrant officer, an engineer officer and a supply sergeant. The SOF cell is augmented with one civilian operations specialist, four logistics specialists and 10 maintenance technicians.
Fort Bliss opportunities, resources
The PMT site maximizes training space and allows SOTFs to execute collective training with a realistic dispersion of operational elements by employing a "hub-and-spoke" concept. SOTFs can exercise distributed command and control and a variety of SOF capabilities by assigning subordinate maneuver elements to geographically separated satellite training sites within the Fort Bliss area. Fort Bliss is the hub where SOTFs establish command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or C4ISR, specifically, in Oro Grande, Dona Ana or the McGregor Range Complex. SF B-detachments establish spokes on Fort Bliss ranges or in nearby New Mexico training areas, including: the Playas Training and Research Center, or PTRC; the Stallion Range complex; the White Sands Missile Range; and the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center.
The PTRC, especially, offers SF Soldiers a unique opportunity to refine their nonlethal skills in support of PMT requirements. Located a three hours' drive from Fort Bliss in southeastern New Mexico, it is owned and operated by New Mexico Tech University, which funds it as a training and research facility using Department of Homeland Security funds. The facility includes an Afghan urban marketplace; a large Afghan village; a combat outpost; and several housing areas converted for use in urban combat, drug-interdiction and border-security training programs. It has on-site billeting and established contracts to provide Afghan and Iraqi cultural and language role-players.
SOTFs have used the Playas site to support their training as an advanced operating base, or AOB. AOBs use the site's realistic training environment and cultural and language role players to develop immersive training scenarios that allow them to develop their skills in intercultural communications, problem-solving and political awareness. The training allows SF Soldiers to refine the interpersonal skills, nonverbal communication skills, language proficiency, and area and cultural orientation and understanding that are proving valuable in Afghanistan in missions such as village stability operations and the buildup of the Afghan local police.
USASFC is working to improve training opportunities, capabilities and infrastructure available for SOTFs training at Fort Bliss. Feedback from operational groups and comments derived from unit after-action reports unanimously report good overall training experiences, but there are concerns in three areas:
Fort Bliss range restrictions: SF units training on Fort Bliss ranges must adhere to strict range regulations.4 Fort Bliss range regulations prescribe the limitations, requirements and general safety precautions established for training general-purpose forces and do not account for training in support of SOF. SOF training on Fort Bliss ranges requires command-endorsed exception-to-policy letters for the use and employment of nonstandard equipment, training methods and foreign weapons.
In November 2010, USASFC invited selected Fort Bliss range supervisors to attend a demonstration of SF training methods and tactics, techniques and procedures at Fort Bragg's Range 37.5 The effort was well-received by the Fort Bliss range supervisors, and now Fort Bliss is soliciting input from the PMT SOF cell in drafting a SOF training addendum to the Fort Bliss range regulation.
Limited maneuver space: Because of ongoing range-enhancement projects, Fort Bliss's ranges are congested and do not provide adequate space for mounted cross-country maneuver and mobility training. Fort Bliss has closed several ranges, creating congestion of existing facilities and competition among tenant units for their use. The pressure should be alleviated as the Base Realignment and Closure projects for Fort Bliss are completed and new range facilities open for use.
In March, the PMT SOF cell and representatives from the SF groups conducted site surveys of potential training locations in the Fort Bliss vicinity with an eye toward expanding training opportunities and maneuver space available for training units. USASFC will analyze the site-survey information to determine where resources could be provided to support development of additional training areas. To reduce the potential for disruption of PMT because of inadequate maneuver space, SOTFs should use outstation ranges instead of those on Fort Bliss whenever possible.
The way ahead
USASFC has identified three areas of focus for enhancing the training capacity of the PMT site. The first is to expand the training areas and infrastructure available for the regiment. The second is to expand interoperability and integration through PMT with joint units and interagency partners assigned to operational commands, specifically, combined joint special-operations task forces. The third is for SOTFs to integrate force modernization and the validation of capabilities of new equipment.
The hub-and-spoke model that USASFC is working to develop will help relieve the competition among SOTFs for limited Fort Bliss resources. Information obtained from the March site surveys and recommendations from the PMT SOF cell will help determine the best locations for future satellite training areas. The intent is to have two SOTF command-and-control and logistics-support hubs on Fort Bliss and up to three AOB sites in satellite training areas.
USASFC is completing coordination and obtaining administrative approval for breaking ground on a SOTF base camp at Oro Grande. The camp's design calls for an austere, secure facility with an operations center and billeting for SOTF headquarters personnel. SOTF headquarters will be able to deploy to Oro Grande to provide C4ISR and to exercise support-and-sustainment activities for their subordinate units and attachments. USASFC is working to identify a location for a second SOTF base camp in the Fort Bliss area. That would not only alleviate the necessity of coordinating the use of Fort Bliss billeting facilities but also provide SOTFs a location designed specifically for exercising SOF command-and-control and support.
In March, the 3rd SF Group, as the "framework group" responsible for providing the command headquarters for CJSOTF-Afghanistan, coordinated and hosted a PMT deconfliction conference that encompassed all participating units, enablers and individual augmentees assigned in support of Operating Enduring Freedom XVIII. USASFC embraced the initiative as a precedent for all future PMT planning, resourcing and deconfliction. In accordance with the FY 2011-2013 USASFC Command Training Guidance, the command encourages SF groups to participate in all upcoming SOTF rotations at the Fort Bliss PMT site.
The command has integrated and will continue to integrate force modernization evaluation and validation of new equipment at Fort Bliss. USASFC is committed to providing the regiment with the best resources available. USASFC has programmed Fort Bliss as a test bed for force-development and resource-integration processes to validate equipment designed to enhance the operational capabilities of the regiment. Units can expect to support this initiative by volunteering select elements to assess and validate new equipment during their PMT at Fort Bliss.
The PMT site at Fort Bliss provides the right combination of facilities and SOF-unique resources to facilitate realistic SF-specific training in unit collective and individual skills, while achieving efficiencies of regimental resources. Operational commitments and the high demand for SF have resulted in the establishment of a dedicated SF training location. Throughout FY 2010, the PMT site facilitated training for seven SOTFs, validating the proof of concept. However, comments on SOTF after-action reports indicate that Fort Bliss range restrictions and limited maneuver space have demonstrated weaknesses in the current PMT concept. USASFC acknowledges lessons learned and is investing in the expansion of training areas and infrastructure to support the development of a hub-and-spoke model to relieve existing competition among JSOTFs for limited Fort Bliss ranges and billeting.
As long as the high demand for trained and validated SF units remains constant within the CENTCOM AOR and around the world, the PMT site at Fort Bliss will remain relevant and fully operational. USASFC will continue to refine the site based on feedback, analysis and after-action comments received from the operational groups. In conclusion, the regimental PMT site provides commanders the resources and training areas necessary to produce qualified and validated SOTFs, fully prepared to deploy for combat in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations throughout the world. USASFC is committed to continually enhancing training opportunities and capabilities of the PMT site to maximize the regiment's ability to operate across the spectrum of military operations.6
Major David S. Clukey is the chief of exercise in the U.S. Army Special Forces Command G3 training.
1. Lieutenant General John F. Mulholland, USASOC Remainder of FY 10 - FY 12 Command Training Guidance (Fort Bragg, N.C., 24 May 2010).
2. The family of special-operations vehicles consists of SOF variants of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, and the All-Terrain Vehicle, or M-ATV. The M-ATV is the high-mobility, high-protection, medium tactical vehicle specifically engineered for treacherous environments. Derived from the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement platform, the M-ATV is an MRAP vehicle that incorporates the TAK-4 independent suspension system. Oshkosh Defense website, 2011: http://www.oshkoshdefense.com/products/5/m-atv (accessed 2 April 2011).
3. Major General Edward Reeder, USASFC(A) FY 11 - FY 13 Command Training Guidance (Fort Bragg, N.C., 23 August 2010), 3.
4. Fort Bliss Regulation 385-63, Fort Bliss Training Complex Range Operations (Fort Bliss Texas: 10 February 2010).
5. Range 37 is managed by the JFK Special Warfare Center and School's Company D, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group. It has live-fire training facilities, as well as training areas for advanced marksmanship; explosive, ballistic and mechanical breaching; and rappelling. It serves as the training site for the Special Forces Sniper Course and the Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance Target Analysis Exploitation Techniques Course. Steven Hartov, "Forging Special Forces: The JFK Special Warfare Center and School," Special Operations Report, Spring 2009, www.stevenhartov.com/SOR/Feat-USSF.v5.pdf (accessed 5 April 2011).
6. Department of the Army, FM 3-05, Special Operations Forces (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010).