Reprinted with permission from the September-October 2010 issue of Fires.
Recognizing the need for a transformation in training and education, the Fires Center of Excellence (FCoE) began to develop a concept for the Joint and Combined Fires University in 2008. Although, the university's concept pre-dates the November 2009 release of A Leader Development Strategy for a 21st Century Army, and the May 2010 release of The United States Army Learning Concept for 2015, the FCoE is on target and ahead of schedule in providing a path to achieving TRADOC's number one priority of developing leaders and providing Fires professionals a variety of avenues for learning.
The concept of the JCFU is that of an innovative learning organization, and it will provide training and education through a mix of delivery methods as outlined by both of these critical concepts, as well as a blend of institutional, operational, and self-development domains. Access to JCFU is located behind the AKO firewall on the Fires Knowledge Network; logon to <https://www.us.army.mil/suite/page/586282>. JCFU is scheduled to be at initial operational capability by summer 2011.
On the JCFU website is a multitude of online courses, distance learning classes, virtual reality learning opportunities, and links to obtaining traditional classroom instruction, most of which are available upon request now.
Students can also currently access JCFU resources from the Field Artillery or Air Defense Artillery branch schoolhouses as a part of the FCoE, through civilian universities that have partnerships with JCFU, other sister service schoolhouses, or from their home station. JCFU will provide blended learning and the highest quality training, education, and development opportunities for Army, joint, interagency, and coalition partners in the art and science of lethal and non-lethal Fires.
JCFU was born out of necessity
Critical decision making is no longer exclusive to senior leaders in the operational environment. Junior officers, junior NCOs and Soldiers - all must make critical decisions on today's battlefield. MG David Halverson's Fires Functional Concept, which is nested with the Army Operating Concept and the Army Capstone Concept, describes a future characterized by uncertainty, complexity, rapid change, and persistent conflict.
These concepts also dictate the necessity of developing leaders who understand the context of factors influencing the military situation, who can act within that understanding, continually access and adopt those actions based on the interactions and circumstance of the enemy and environment, consolidate tactical and operational opportunities into strategic aims, and be able to effectively transition from one form of operations to another.
These Army leaders also must have the knowledge and skills necessary to train and employ modular force units, be culturally aware and astute, be capable of executing mission-type orders and the commander's intent, and finally, be leaders of character.
So, how do we make sure all these knowledge requirements are met, knowing Soldiers and leaders typically do not have enough time between deployments and missions to attend traditional Army schools? The FCoE answered this challenge by standing up the JCFU to deliver vital knowledge directly to those who need it the most and in formats that are easily understood.
From a Fires perspective, through developing the JCFU concept, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Sailors, allied nations, coalition partners, and interagency personnel are being trained with the necessary skills it takes to be a leader on the battlefield today. The JCFU concept provides the individual learner a "one-stop portal" in which they will be able to manage and access their career progression and operational training and education needs.
The JCFU concept is quickly becoming the model for all of TRADOC to follow to facilitate life-long learning with a 24-hours, seven-days-a-week, reach-back capability. Since 2008, the JCFU concept has been continuously evolving and expanding to add more courses, instructors, and resources for Fires professionals.
Technology at your fingertips
The JCFU concept is on the cutting edge of leveraging emerging technology to bring live, virtual, and constructive training and education to the Fires professional. Several gaming and simulation applications are currently in development or are now in use which enables students to immerse themselves in true-to-life scenarios in order to broaden their experience base and intuitive decision making abilities at the touch of a keystroke.
For example, currently in use by the FCoE Noncommissioned Officer Academy is a virtual interactive training experience called "Danger Close." The Senior Leader Course and Advanced Leader Course for both Field Artillery and Air Defense Artillery at Fort Sill have included "Danger Close" in a 10-hour and four-hour blocks of instruction. The platform uses state-of the-art graphics and scenes using Soldiers filmed on location at Fort Sill. Students in the classroom experience the action through the eyes of an avatar, in this case they can choose between an officer or an NCO, in order to explore NCO and officer interaction in a variety of situations from garrison to a deployment.
Through lessons learned and experiencing consequences from decision making, the role-players make life-and-death decisions and learn the outcome of those decisions - it is personalized training at its best. Currently, small group leaders use it as a tool for developing young leaders and as a refresher for seasoned Soldiers.
Another example, although still in the development stage, is "Virtual Platoon." This interactive game concept focuses more on the role of officer. This game exercises a lieutenant's decision- making abilities and overall knowledge of Army programs and support systems by immersing him in a variety of complex scenarios from pre-deployment to post deployment, in garrison as well as during deployment. The officer receives feedback about his decisions from avatar mentors or JCFU instructors. In many cases, the young officer will be forced to deal with the consequences of his decisions and reflect how he could have done better.
Yet another example of how the JCFU concept is setting the example by embracing technology and scenario based curriculum is the newly developed "Collateral Damage Decision-making Tool" or CDDT. The platform uses graphics comparable to those seen in the science fiction video game "Halo."
"Development for CDDT has been completed, and it is going through the validation process now," said Christin Pena, an instructional systems specialist with the FCoE Education Technology Branch.
With the constantly changing operational environment, the JCFU required a responsive capability to deliver immersive, virtual decision games and simulations, Pena said.
So, the FCoE responded by developing a semi-immersive, student-centered, virtual decision gaming capability, she said. The capability utilizes Virtual Battlespace2 or VBS2 to develop realistic, virtual scenarios that are deliverable outside of the actual game to provide facilitated or distributed instruction. The capability will be integrated into the JCFU's institutional, self-development and operational domains by delivering training, education, and experience anywhere at any time.
"Leveraging this gaming technology has allowed the FCoE to create a scenario-based game immersing the Soldier in a simulated operational environment where they can safely observe the outcomes of their decisions," Pena said. "The focus of this training is to minimize or eliminate collateral damage. The Soldier observes a virtual scenario and then determines his/her course of action.
"After the decision is made, the Soldier can observe how that decision impacts not only the current situation but also second and third-order effects. CDDT will be delivered on CDs, facilitated in classrooms, as well as posted online through FKN," she said.
The Army Culture and Foreign Language Strategy released in 2009 highlighted operational experiences in Somalia, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq with having critical gaps in the Army's capability to influence and operate effectively within different cultures for extended periods of time. Battlefield lessons learned have demonstrated that language proficiency and understanding of foreign cultures are vital enablers for full-spectrum operations.
Optimal leaders must be "culturally astute and able to use this awareness and understanding to achieve an in [sic] cultural edge ... with great language capabilities and capacities." In a nutshell, leaders must understand how culture affects military operations.
With a growing awareness that U.S. military forces operating in other countries must be as knowledgeable and respectful as possible of that nation's customs and languages, once again the FCoE's JCFU concept is leading the way by hiring a cultural advisor, who has totally revamped the traditional teaching approach for Soldiers to learn culture and foreign language.
Dr. Mahir Ibrahimov, who is fluent in five languages and versed in many cultures, is currently on board as the FCoE's cultural advisor and is the head of the JCFU Cultural & Foreign Language Program.
Ibrahimov has created an innovative, multipronged approach toward learning that is geared for each level of leader to prepare them for living and working in a new country, preventing culture shock, easing the transition and creating awareness of different cultural and individual styles to maximize operations.
When deployed in a foreign land and among a foreign culture, sometimes the smallest things are important and can lead to success or failure. For example, some Soldiers may not know that the hand signal for 'OK' is perfectly fine in the Western world, but such a gesture might cause offense in some areas of the Middle East. Beyond migrating unintentional insults, cultural interpretation, competence, and adaptation are prerequisites for achieving a win-win relationship in any military operation.
A commander from 3rd Infantry Division observed in an after-action review, "I had perfect situational awareness. What I lacked was cultural awareness. I knew where every enemy tank was dug in on the outskirts of Tallil. Only problem was, my Soldiers had to fight fanatics charging on foot or in pickups and firing AK47s and RPGs. Great technical intelligence ... wrong enemy."
Operational commanders who do not consider the role of culture during mission planning and execution invite unintended and unforeseen consequences, and even mission failure.
"I'm sharing my expertise with the troops. I'm providing our troops with the most current and broadest possible understanding of the various cultures that our troops are liable to encounter during potential future deployments," Ibrahimov said.
Items in the FCoE Cultural & Foreign Language Program's arsenal include a "Cultural Awareness and Language Training Package" developed by Ibrahimov, which is a portable training option for Soldiers that includes several foreign language CDs, a cultural awareness scenario-based game called "Army 360," language flashcards, and field-expedient language smart books allocated from the Defense Language Institute for our troops' use.
Ibrahimov also established a Culture and Foreign Language Resource Center in the Morris Swett Technical library, where students have access to computers for self-paced training, various cultural awareness books, and numerous other applicable digital and traditional learning resources.
He also worked tirelessly to establish formal partnerships with civilian universities and other subject-matter experts from across the nation to conduct culture and foreign language seminars here at Fort Sill.
Ibrahimov also made available on the FKN website (https://www.us.army.mil/suite/doc/21617522) a dedicated FCoE Cultural & Foreign Language Program resource page, which contains cultural awareness and foreign language knowledge, information on past seminars, information on the program, media coverage of the events, foreign languages guides, links to the Defense Language Institute, Foreign Language Center resources, as well as the CIA Fact Book - the list and site are constantly being updated.
No more death by PowerPoint
Beyond revamping training, the JCFU concept has also overhauled the way its instructors teach. Rather than using old standard Army techniques of lecture peppered with PowerPoint slides, adult learning theories are now being incorporated into all the JCFU's curriculum at both the FA and ADA schoolhouses.
Research shows that those who learn best are those who take responsibility for their own learning and who are given the opportunity to reflect and dialogue during the training and education process.
With the help of the Internet, and a variety of communication, visualization, and simulation technologies, the old Army's standard of "70 percent and go" is no longer an appropriate standard where the achievement of learning outcomes are directly tied to meeting the needs of the Army for values based, culturally astute, critically thinking Soldiers and leaders.
The process of developing cadre steeped in the art of facilitated learning through reflection has already begun through the JCFU concept. Staff and faculty at Fort Sill are currently being trained to use Outcome-Based Training and Education as well as other Socratic teaching methods, developed from Plato's Socratic Dialogues. The Socratic method of teaching is a student-centered approach that challenges learners to develop their critical thinking skills and engage in analytic discussion. Ultimately, JCFU instructors will use cutting edge instructional methods coupled with technical and tactical expertise to raise the understanding of all students.
The future is now
When the Leader Development Strategy for a 21st Century Army was released, it articulated the characteristics the Army desires in its leaders as they progress through their careers. Even though this doctrine is new, some of the factors that make a great leader haven't really changed. For example, the ability to be innovative, execute, and be a strong role model for Soldiers is always essential, but in addition to these qualities, a new leadership style is emerging, with skills uniquely tailored for success in today's battlefield environment.
The JCFU concept is at the heart of these changes and is quickly setting the standard for the rest of the Army to follow. The JCFU concept is serving as the catalyst for the transformation of training and education not only here at Fort Sill but for the rest of the Army. The JCFU concept is a learning organization that will, through the process of reflection and analysis, continuously strive to determine the training and education needs of today and tomorrow's Soldiers and leaders.
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