The big picture: SWTG introduces the comprehensive training environment
By Maj. Gregory A. Parkins and Maj. Ed Williams
Originally published in the March-April 2011 edition of Special Warfare
Change is a constant factor of the Special Forces Qualification Course, or SFQC, because the trainers at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, or SWCS, are always striving to improve the training process and its product, the SF Soldier.
One part of the SFQC that has remained constant throughout the years is Robin Sage, the SFQC's two-week culmination exercise, or CULEX. The training area for the CULEX, the fictional country of Pineland, stretches across 8,000 square miles of central North Carolina. While the physical training area is as complex and difficult as it is vast, the real value is in the human terrain in Pineland.
The Pineland scenario makes use of the services of thousands of North Carolina civilians who volunteer to assist in the exercise as role players representing guerrilla leaders and members of the Pineland populace. The exercise also uses military role players who act as guerrillas.
During the scenario, SFQC students work to assist the government of Pineland, which is facing an insurgency. Following a coup that deposes the legitimate government, the SF students work with role players to raise and train a guerrilla force that will fight the usurpers and attempt to restore the Pineland government. The unique training area and unconventional-warfare, or UW, training environment allow instructors to stress the SF candidates, assessing their ability to think on their feet and accomplish their team's missions.
While Pineland is a wonderful training environment, the students are immersed in it for only two of the 52 weeks that the average Soldier spends in the SFQC: That is not quite 4 percent of their training. In order to improve the quality of training, SWCS leaders asked: How can SWCS bring this kind of training and environment to the other 50 weeks that students are in the SFQC? How can we create a similar environment for SWCS's other two qualification courses: the Civil Affairs Qualification Course, or CAQC, and the Military Information Support Operations Qualification Course, or MISOQC? How can we inject that environment in our training for advanced skills, such as sensitive-site-exploitation courses, the Special Forces Target Interdiction Course and the Special Forces Intelligence Sergeant Course?
The 1st Special Warfare Training Group, or 1SWTG, is taking steps to create a comprehensive training environment, or CTE, using three lines of operation, which are under concurrent development. The first line is to update the UW scenario used throughout the SFQC and incorporate it into the CAQC, MISOQC and advanced-skills courses. The updated UW training will provide a common UW basis for all training conducted at SWCS.
The second line, complementary to the first, is to reorganize and consolidate the major resources used in all three qualification courses and all advanced-skills courses. The third line is to establish a cell in 1SWTG to support all its battalions in executing and maintaining their parts of the UW scenario, manage contracts and role players and build objectives, etc. The cell will also support specialized training outside SWCS's standard courses, if it is requested by units of the U.S. Special Operations Command or interagency partners.
The 1st Battalion has begun standardizing the UW curriculum within the SFQC in support of the CTE initiative in order to improve overall training. The CTE initiative will introduce UW concepts earlier in the SFQC and build upon UW instruction throughout thOSE course in order to better inculcate UW concepts. That will allow 1SWTG to introduce more advanced UW instruction during the CULEX (e.g., operational UW planning and UW as the strategic response) and provide the students a more realistic and relevant UW experience.
The initiative will take place in four parts. First, students will be introduced to UW at the beginning of the SFQC by participating in Robin Sage as guerrillas. Second, formal UW instruction will begin earlier in the SFQC, primarily using a distributed-learning methodology, and the cadre will build upon thST instruction progressively throughout the course. Third, trainers will introduce and develop more advanced UW concepts during the CULEX. Fourth, trainers will interweave the Pineland strategic scenario throughout the entire SFQC, so that graduates will better understand the role of UW in the contemporary operating environment.
The Robin Sage guerrilla training will expose students to the overall learning objectives and outcomes of the SFQC, and it will train them in tactical guerrilla warfare (basic small-unit tactics, sabotage operations, employment of homemade explosives, etc.). Most importantly, it will provide them with the operational and strategic context under which they will train for the remainder of the SFQC. Under the supervision of the Robin Sage cadre and mentorship of the guerrilla chiefs, the students will gain an understanding of what will be expected of them throughout the remainder of the SFQC, as well as OF the importance of UW in the SF mission set.
Although they receive no formal UW training during Phase II (language) and Phase III (tactical combat skills), students will gain a good understanding of the importance of language and culture. They will more readily acquire tactical skills during Phase III based on their guerrilla experience during Phase I.
The next formal UW training will occur in Phase IV (military occupational specialty, or MOS). Fifteen hours of UW instruction that were previously taught during Robin Sage will be offered through distributed learning and monitored by Robin Sage cadre through Blackboard. Students' knowledge of that instruction will be tested through a comprehensive UW exam that will be a "hard" gate for advancement to the next phase, Robin Sage. In addition, each MOS course is transforming its field training exercises, or FTXs, to incorporate the use of guerrillas. During Phase IV, students training in each MOS will have not only to master their particular specialty but also to develop a plan for teaching it to guerrilla role-players in a field environment. The SFQC officer course goes a step further by conducting a UW FTX in central North Carolina, where students conduct UW pilot-team operations in a denied environment (in preparation for Robin Sage) to determine the area's suitability for UW operations.
The benefits of progressive and incremental UW training will become most apparent during Phase V, Robin Sage. Students will begin the phase with a strong foundation in UW fundamentals and operations. That will give the Robin Sage cadre the latitude to teach more advanced UW concepts and further develop a more holistic and complex UW scenario. Examples include providing targeted language-training opportunities, integrating interagency and joint assets into the training, and expanding the strategic scenario to include UW as a strategic option rather than as support to the introduction of conventional forces.
The Pineland scenario is the thread that holds the CTE initiative together and allows the total integration of UW instruction throughout the SFQC. Once SWCS has updated and revised the scenario, it will be introduced at the beginning of the SFQC. It will then provide operational and strategic context for SFQC students throughout the course and ensure gradual exposure to the operational environment during training.
For example, during Phase III (tactical combat skills), the scenario will place the students in pre-coup Pineland, conducting counterinsurgency at the request of the government, including the integration of partner-nation forces into the plan. The coup will occur during students' training in the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Course, triggering the evasion exercise, and the environment will begin to transition from foreign internal defense to UW. During Phase IV (MOS training), students will conduct pre-mission training in a friendly neighboring country, including the limited training of guerrillas who will be reintroduced into their country after they complete training.
Other initiatives under development support the UW curriculum realignment. The 1SWTG is updating training objectives to properly represent the contemporary operating environment. That will give trainers the ability to provide regional targets during all phases of training and, in concert with the modification of the current support contract to include more language-qualified role players, further regionalizing Robin Sage. That will give the cadre the latitude to include foreign refugees as part of the resistance, place foreign detainees on the targets or introduce foreign nongovernment organizations into the scenario. This is in addition to the current language role-playing that occurs between the SF detachments and the members of the resistance (Montagnards, foreign representation during area command meetings, etc.), propaganda written in targeted languages and the interaction with coalition partners.
These changes will support all three qualification courses. For example, role players on a specific objective will have several roles to play, depending on which element of Army Special Operations Forces, or ARSOF, is training there (CA, MISO or SF). That process will also aid in developing joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational relationships to improve the training. Robin Sage has developed a good working relationship with other government agencies that provide classes and contract air assets that support the exercise. With the potential expansion of the CULEX, the CA cadre is also looking to develop the transition phase of the operation, incorporating representatives from the U.S. Agency for International Development/State Department or role-players who act as their representatives. Finally, the SFQC Allied Program allows foreign military personnel to participate in various phases of training. SWCS continues to refine that program in order to determine the best method of integrating allied military students into the training, particularly into Robin Sage.
The outcome of all these refinements will be an ARSOF Soldier who is completely grounded in the fundamentals of UW; has been fully exposed to the complexity and nuances that UW operations pose at the tactical, operational and strategic levels; and is able to apply those acquired UW-related skills in contemporary operating environments and in support of future national-security objectives. Upon graduation, those ARSOF Soldiers will now be better prepared for advanced UW training, including operational design and the application of UW as a strategic response.
Major Gregory A. Parkins was commissioned to the Infantry from ROTC in 1995 and assigned to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y. He completed the SFQC in 2002 and was assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group, Okinawa, Japan, after which he served at the JRTC and completed ILE at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He is currently the executive officer for the 1st SWTG.
Major Ed Williams was commissioned to the Infantry from West Point in 1998 and assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. He completed the SFQC in 2003 and was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group, after which he served at JRTC and completed ILE at the Naval Post Graduate School. He is currently the operations officer for the 1st Battalion, 1st SWTG.