Figure 10-1. Canadian Army Brig. Gen. Jean Collin, commander,
1. What advantages does training here at the NTC provide your unit that it may not receive at other training venues?
Well, there's not three feet of snow here is the first thing that I would say. I think before we get into that specific question and just for background purposes, you should know that we have our own Canadian Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) in Wainwright, Alberta. It was actually built, quite frankly, on the NTC model. When we stood this place up, CMTC, four or five years ago, we had actually spent a lot of time down here seeing how NTC operates and leveraging the lessons learned from NTC when we created our maneuver training center. They look and feel quite a lot alike in terms of the observer controller networks, how the exercises are put together, etc., etc. Our CMTC, although it still needs to evolve, I personally believe is an outstanding organization. I would have been more than happy to take Task Force 1-10, the current Canadian unit that's here, and put them through CMTC. However, this task force needs to deploy in early April, and when you do the timeline, that means they have to do their main collective training in January and February.
Now back to my three feet of snow comment. It would make no sense to train someone for a spring deployment to Afghanistan in the cold weather conditions of Canada. As we've done on some occasions in the past, though on a much smaller scale, we went to U.S. Forces Command (FORSCOM) and asked if they could help. They said absolutely they would love too; in fact, they were incredibly generous with their offer and gave us two back-to-back NTC rotations so that we got a solid six weeks of training for our task force before they deployed overseas.
It was an incredibly generous offer that we took advantage of. Although I'd say that I would have been more than happy to just use CMTC, clearly NTC does give us advantages that our CMTC cannot give us. NTC gives us a larger training area that has been significantly developed for counterinsurgency operations - the number of villages that have been established here is just one good example. The number of role-players that you have provides us with more capability than what we would have at our training center. We have villages, we have role-players, but nowhere near the same numbers or nowhere near the same vastness of terrain that you have at NTC from the far western edge to the far eastern edge that stresses all the communication challenges or logistical burdens that are exposed here.
One big part of coming here is being able to take advantage of the infrastructure that exists. The other key advantage of coming here is that nobody is the master of all good ideas, and although our observer controllers (OCs) and our exercise designers are quite good, simply by being involved with another nation and another nation like the United States of America and the U.S. military and all of their experiences, we've been able to leverage those experiences, those competencies and understandings of a counterinsurgency fight, and share ideas and exchange ideas. Truly, take advantage of those ideas and all that is associated with the melding of the minds.
That melding of the minds has been probably no more evident than in the OC teams where right now we have shared OC teams. We have Americans and Canadians working hand-in-hand. Therefore, the training audience has been able to benefit greatly from the various points of view that are offered despite the fact that we have different tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP). Just the sharing of those experiences has proved invaluable.
2. How did the NTC observer controllers/trainers and other U.S. partners enhance or impact your training here? Was it value added?
Back to the OCs for a second. The approach that we took is that we just didn't want to have a U.S. organization or just the Canadians working with the training audience out there; then you don't get the full advantage of the melding of the minds. So what you will see throughout the training area or box are these shared OC teams with Canadian and American participation. The lead right now for this particular phase is Canadian, but go back to the previous phase and some of the leads were U.S. OCs.
One funny story that I would like to share with you was in about the second week that I was here, I was noticing that a number of my Canadian OCs were starting to use American terminology and I started to laugh at that because that's a good indication of the mind meld taking place, but then I was comforted about the very next day when I noticed an American OC using Canadian terminology, so that it was going both ways - that was a very positive sign indeed.
As for the joint fires and joint integration, what we've been able to do here, and it's been very beneficial, is the use of air support. We've had tremendous air support from U.S. forces primarily because of the U.S. Air Force training exercise that's also taking place here.
The NTC and Joint Forces Command's staff have worked very hard in coordinating with a number of U.S. Air Force assets to come and exercise over top of the box while we are here, so it's given us an opportunity to not only do air space coordination, but also call in fires from U.S. air assets like F-16s and other aircraft. So that has been tremendously beneficial. Most times when we do this in Canada, most calls for fire are with Canadian aircraft. The fact that we've been able to do this with coalition partners is huge.
Same thing holds true with U.S. air surveillance assets in terms of intelligence gathering. The use of U.S. assets, leveraged by NTC and Joint Forces Command and put over the box to be coordinated by the training audience, has also been value added.
Also, a U.S. Army Cavalry unit that's training here on their own separate exercise at the same time has been helpful. NTC and our planners working together were able to manage and create a rather joint scenario whereby we were able to take advantage of combined ground-based coalition operations. We've even had some long range surveillance patrols from the CAV unit actually observe targeted areas within the Canadian area of operations and vice versa.
We also have a U.S. Army Military Police Company here to replicate the Afghan national police and a number of other police linkages that we'd see in Kandahar city now. So that's another tremendous benefit in terms of combined operations.
3. Did your unit gain much from working with U.S. joint intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms to help your targeting process during this training rotation?
The beauty about this training was at the end of the day, I think our two nations work so well together since we all have the same procedures for calls for fire and air space coordination, etc., so that as a member of the training audience, it really didn't matter what flag was on the side of the airplane or the surveillance aircraft that was flying overhead. The procedures were the same, the calls for fire were the same, and you got the required effect on the target regardless of the nation that provided the effect, and that was truly beneficial.
4. What was the most beneficial aspect of your training here?
The support from NTC has been superb across the board, so I am almost hesitant to put my finger on one thing, because it doesn't matter whether you're talking about logistics support, observer controllers, exercise planners, command and control, integration of coalition assets - it's all been tremendous and value added. However, if I had to put my finger on one thing, it would probably be the shared experiences that we have gained from the U.S. observer controllers.
5. What could be done to make it an even better training opportunity for future coalition rotational units?
I'm not sure that I would focus on anything in the training realm. To be honest, coming here was a lot of work both for us and the NTC staff. We had to start by understanding each other's organizations - everything from contracting to cross boarder movement to getting ammunition from Canada to the NTC. So I would not say that the mounting and execution of this operation has been easy. It's been a lot of work behind the scenes to make this happen, so if I was to identify one thing to change for the future, because I'd love for us to be able to do this more often, we need to build on our lessons learned from this one and find ways to better plan and execute future training events.
I want to be very clear with this - that it has nothing to do with the people involved because everyone has been incredibly supportive, friendly, and went the extra mile to get it done. It just seemed that everyone had to go the extra mile since everything was so complicated to make it happen.
6. As we move forward, how important is it for Canadian and U.S. forces to work and train together?
It's essential. You only need to take a look at southern Afghanistan, where we are both working right now, and in Kandahar province in particular, where we are working hand-in-hand in combined operations. There are Canadian forces under the command of U.S. military leaders and vice versa. There are U.S. and Canadian forces working together all the time. We better get this right in training in order to get it right during the conduct of combined operations - we owe it to the men and women that serve in both our militaries. Although we fully recognize the strength of the U.S. forces, we know that you wish to have coalition partners, and we know that we want to be involved as a coalition partner, and that linkage between the U.S. and Canada is essential as we move forward, especially in a counterinsurgency fight. We can't do enough of this is the bottom line.
7. Any closing thoughts for your Canadian or our U.S. audience?
Yes, my sincere appreciation to the National Training Center for everything that it has done both before we arrived and while we have been here to help prepare our next task force to conduct military operations in Afghanistan. Their support to us has been nothing short of exceptional, and though I focus in on the NTC, I also know there are people in other organizations like U.S. Forces Command, Joint Forces Command, etc., that have also played a pivotal role in this. The bottom line is the support that we have received in making this all happen has been superb. I am convinced that without that support at all levels, this exercise would not have been the success that it has been. On behalf of our entire task force, my sincere appreciation to NTC and all partners that are associated with it.