601st Aviation Support Battalion BSA / By LTC Aaron M. McPeake, MAJ Jason Knapp, and CPT Mark A. Yore: Seldom does an aviation support battalion (ASB) have the opportunity to train at one of the Army’s combat training centers (CTC). Without the advantage of scheduled rotations to a CTC, training to achieve mission essential task (MET) proficiency in an expeditionary environment must be conducted at home station. The 601st ASB, Fort Riley, Kansas achieved that through nesting training with our supported battalion’s mission readiness training exercise (MRX). With nearly 30% of the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade’s (1CAB), 1st Infantry Division (1ID) deployed in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Resolute Support, along with the 1-6 Heavy Attack Reconnaissance Squadron (1-6 HARS) continuing to train for potential expeditionary deployments, the 601st ASB seized the opportunity to deploy the brigade support area (BSA) for Operation Saber Focus, 1-6 HARS’s MRX; a feat that has not been accomplished in over six years. For nearly 100 years the 1ID has been jolted into battle in multiple expeditionary environments. The 601st ASB acknowledged this and framed a 10-day field training exercise to prepare Soldiers and leaders for the next expeditionary fight.
Leaders in the 601st ASB conduct Rehearsal of Concept drill, ensuring leaders at echelon were synchronized prior to the battalion EDRE and BSA occupation.
Leadership within the 1ID, 1CAB, and 601st ASB all understood that in order to produce a viable plan to deploy the ASB, we must deliberately plan, utilizing the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). The battalion staff planned the BSA with the following command guidance; 1) Alert/Deploy, 2) Protect, 3) Sustain, and 4) Integrate, and 5) Validate. The priorities were providing uninterrupted sustainment support to 1-6 HARS, integrating push/pull logistics from the 1ID Sustainment Brigade (1IDSB), and validating our tactical standard operating procedures (TACSOP). The 601st ASB had 10 protected training days to accomplish this task. To make this training event challenging and realistic, we decided to “jump” the BSA mid-operations, testing the battalion’s agility and capability. We structured our training objectives into the Army’s six war fighting functions; mission command, movement and maneuver, intelligence, fires, sustainment, and protection as a principle. We synchronized our plan internally by executing a rehearsal of concept (ROC), along with conducting a BSA occupation rehearsal. The battalion participated in the Division’s combined arms rehearsal (CAR), and executed the sustainment rehearsal at the ASB’s field site, ensuring 1-6 HARS had a clear understanding of our concept of support.
Establishing Systems & Security
With several new officers and noncommissioned officers on the battalion staff, we identified Mission Command as a focus area, particularly establishing our command post and common operation picture (COP). Establishing a standard, flexible battle rhythm including battle update briefs (BUB), shift change briefs, and commanders update briefs (CUB) enabled our staff to synchronize their efforts and manage their time more efficiently. The staff quickly learned the functions of the command post (CP), creating shared understanding while conducting the full operations process. The battle desk’s ability to immediately assume responsibility of tracking both aviation and ground movements enabled the commander to make informed decisions though use of the COP. The battalion intelligence officer conducted accurate intelligence analysis that tracked the movement and maneuver of both friendly and enemy forces. Establishing security as the first priority of work required establishment of a protection cell. The protection cell not only oversaw and advised the overall security posture of the BSA, they also communicated indirect and direct fires plan to aviators utilizing our forward arming and refueling point (FARP) and transiting through our area. The protection cell’s recommendation to utilize a triangle defense for the BSA proved to be effective if integrating overlapping fields of fire. Once the perimeter and entry control point (ECP) were established, the engineers dug berms around the battalion CP, aid station, and field feeding section in order to effectively protect our soft targets. Displacing/jumping the BSA and reestablishing it provided the opportunity to apply our lessons learned, establish security quicker and more efficiently, and operate in a true expeditionary fashion.
AH-64D Apaches from 1-6 HARS take off and continue their mission after receiving fuel from the Alpha Company, 601st ASB’s FARP.
Providing world class uninterrupted sustainment support to 1-6 HARS was our number one priority. Our Support Operations (SPO) section and Distribution Company, along with the 1IDSB, served as the spearhead of support for this operation. To extend 1-6 HARS’ operational reach, and give their commander flexibility of maneuver, the Distribution Company established a FARP in vicinity of the BSA. This forethought allowed 1-6 HARS to seamlessly continue uninterrupted operations throughout the exercise. The Distribution Company conducted multiple logistics combat patrols during the duration of the exercise while simultaneously providing a secondary FARP. The 1IDSB’s flexibility to support un-forecasted requests aided the Battalion’s ability to provide uninterrupted support.
As an Army, we plan and conduct outstanding training exercises consistently. However, we sometimes fall short in taking the lessons learned from our after action reviews (AAR) and codifying them into useable products. The 1ID Division leadership has challenged 601st ASB leadership to reduce our current 221 page TACSOP into something every Soldier can stick in their cargo pocket. Making a product easy to understand and reference will better posture our Soldiers and leaders as we prepare for a near peer enemy. Throughout the exercise, leaders at every echelon looked at our aviation battle framework, in particular where we place leaders on the battlefield. Utilizing the Forward Support Company’s (FSC) executive officer as a liaison collocated in the BSA paid immediate dividends. Integrating them into the planning process, with the ability to communicate their FSC’s capabilities and limitations enabled our SPO section to anticipate shortfalls and anticipate logistical requirements throughout the battle.
Deploying the 601st ASB to an expeditionary battlefield and establishing a BSA was a complex task which came with growing pains. Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Leaders and Soldiers of the 601st ASB took all of our difficulties and turned them into training opportunities – from identifying shortfalls in radio telephone operators (RTO) to realizing digital systems can and will fail. The 1IDSB assisted by providing multiple observer controller/trainers (OC/T) throughout the exercise. Both the 601st ASB and OC/Ts learned the different capabilities and limitations of an ASB as compared to a brigade support battalion (BSB). These differences are especially important in how we array our capabilities across the battlefield. Although arduous and difficult at times, the ability to protect the BSA was a major sustain that enabled uninterrupted logistical support for the duration for the exercise. As the Division nears its 100th year anniversary, we reflect on the multiple fights the Big Red One Soldiers have found themselves in; from World War I to the Iraq war, 1ID has been in an expeditionary fight. The 601st ASB will continue to train as the 1ID has fought, on an expeditionary battlefield, prepared for the next possible near peer enemy.
LTC Aaron McPeake is the Commander, MAJ Jason Knapp the Executive Officer, and CPT Mark Yore the S3 of the 601st Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, at Fort Riley, KS.