The Expeditionary Mindset: A Commander’s Perspective



1LT Hubbard disccusing the mission with a company commander from Burkina Faso

“An Officer who doesn’t know his communication and supply as well as his tactics is totally useless”

General George S. Patton

For the last decade, the United States Army has continually deployed in some form or fashion specifically to Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout this process, young noncommissioned officers and officers developed the skills required to deploy a unit and then redeploy; yet, as major engagements end those opportunities presented during the last decade will also dwindle. This presents a problem for the United States Army in that noncommissioned officers and officers at higher levels assume that those at the company level understand deployment operations if the situation requires it. This is a dangerous assumption as evidenced by the now year-old statistics from 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, aligned under AFRICOM in 2014, which showed that 74% of the current E4 and below population had never deployed. Within the junior officer ranks, the statistics were slightly better in that 33% of the population have not deployed; yet, both of these statics get worse daily. Furthermore, the individuals who have not deployed will soon make up the ranks of the noncommissioned officers and company grade officers within the Army. True, units may codify some of these lessons learned, but nothing replaces complex situations faced in real-world situations. Regardless, the overall readiness of the unit exercised through deployment-like situations is lost within the current Army unless a new approach, such as the regionally aligned forces model, is accepted. Hence, assignments, such as regionally aligned forces, allow units to reinforce the readiness of the Army by preparing future leaders to execute mission command at higher levels in other situations.

In June 2014, A/1-28 Infantry faced a unique problem set in preparation for the execution of Western Accord in Senegal, Africa. This problem set asked, “How do we deploy a company from Fort Riley, Kansas to Senegal and operate in an austere environment while maintaining communication, engaging with host nation forces, and conducting training that enhances our mission readiness?” The company was not alone in this undertaking in that brigade staff, reservists, national guardsmen, Marines, and other government agencies came together to accomplish the mission; yet, A/1-28 Infantry provided the majority of the soldiers on ground for the operation. After identifying the problem, the company leadership reduced it to a simple question that fueled the training process from collective training to actual execution, “how do we build the skills congruent with an expeditionary mindset?” This expeditionary mindset was not clearly defined within Army doctrine but, after collaborating with other units, we arrived at the conclusion that an expeditionary mindset is one in which the unit may deploy anywhere in the world to accomplish a variety of missions. Additionally, the conclusion became that in order to prepare and accomplish the expeditionary mindset, our readiness would have to increase. As General Mark Milley, then commanding general of Forces Command (FORSCOM), stated at the 2014 AUSA conference, “Our Number 1 task is readiness. And it is not just readiness according to some [Army Force Generation] cycle. Its readiness now, because we have no earthly idea what will happen a month or two from now.” Most Army units do not understand this concept unless assigned a mission, which forces them to practice this readiness. Granted the Combat Training Centers do stress readiness; yet, units will only go to a Combat Training Center once every two years or if assigned to a mission. Regionally aligned units, though, are afforded the opportunity to practice readiness on a continual basis over the course of their alignment and actually obtain the ability to deploy anywhere in the world on short notice.

The question now became, “what skills are required to develop this readiness which facilitates rapid deployment worldwide?” These skills are those developed prior to a Combat Training Center rotation and then practiced again leading up to an actual deployment. The focus becomes those skills, such as offense and defense, while the other aspects of the rotation such as the administrative and medical components become more of a list to accomplish. This aspect of the rotation, focused on the administrative, medical, and other tasks that occur at the garrison level to allow a Soldier to deploy, is a large component of readiness. Without the forcing function of the Combat Training Center rotation, this component of readiness may never become a focus of the unit. Within the regionally aligned forces model, units have to ensure their formations become deployable due to the unpredictable nature of missions thus increasing readiness. Another aspect of readiness focuses on the formalized training that must occur in order to move units from one location to another. Unit movement officers, HAZMAT officers, and the like, need training to execute their duties multiple times through the alignment. These administrative skills ensure the unit’s success in moving from one area of the world to the next and create experiences for those individuals that may make them better leaders in the future. The final aspect of readiness focuses on the skills required to understand and communicate with the host nation forces in regions that the unit may deploy to within their alignment. These skills center on preparing the unit with the cultural understanding needed for upcoming missions.

4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team accomplished this through a multiple step program that encompassed a variety of resources. One program, the Academic Preparation and Education Program (APEP) or Dragon University, sought to prepare individual Soldiers through providing them with intelligence updates on the region, history of the region and its people, basic language familiarization, host nation armies familiarization, and key leader engagement rehearsals. This program, spread out over two weeks, laid the foundation for other programs to build upon and provided a base from which to build the other aspects of readiness. Within APEP, 4th IBCT brought in local experts from Kansas State University and Fort Leavenworth who shared their experiences and knowledge. This cultural understanding manifested itself in Western Accord by A/1-28 IN’s Soldiers living with Soldiers from Burkina Faso and watching the U.S. v. Ghana World Cup Soccer game with an engineer platoon from Ghana. These were not forced opportunities, but ones that came naturally because Soldiers felt comfortable with these host nation forces. This comfort stemmed from the cultural training conducted at home station prior to the deployment. Concerning language training and its impact on readiness, native speakers were instrumental to the overall success of the mission. Formalized language training to the entire group takes away from readiness due to the complexities of learning a new language so the best solution was to utilize those that already possessed the necessary skills. In the future, integration of linguists would assist in this aspect of readiness. Finally, training such as non-standard weapons, IED defeat, and high frequency radios allowed the Soldiers to exercise skills not stressed at CTC rotations. Each facet needs further refinement but, without the external stressor of the regionally aligned deployment, AAR comments would not surface in order to provide the refinement required.

The end result of the train up for regionally aligned forces and the quest for readiness is that each situation becomes a leadership laboratory focused on the Sergeant and Company Grade Officers that otherwise would not be stressed outside of the Combat Training Center rotation. The regionally aligned forces model provides real world experiences that demand innovative, adaptive, and creative thinkers. These thinkers fit the model of what our Army demands in mission command. Hence, the regionally aligned forces model reinforces the readiness of the Army by preparing future leaders to execute mission command at higher levels in other situations. For instance, during Western Accord A/1-28 IN deployed a company to Senegal, conducted a platoon live fire on unknown terrain with a platoon leader who had never conducted a platoon live fire before, and then integrated host nation units into that same live fire while overcoming differences in tactics and languages. This experience gained further reinforcement by incorporating more host nation armies together and conducting a company situational training exercise with a host nation commander in charge of the operation. Thus, the regionally aligned forces model supports the Army by ensuring that the future leaders of the Army continue to execute agile and adaptive solutions to unique problems while increasing overall readiness and executing an expeditionary mindset. This investment in the future of the Army ensures that future noncommissioned officers and company grade officers are prepared to understand the intricacies concerning sustainment, communication, and deployment operations that are essential to winning our nation’s wars.

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