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Vehicle Recovery Training at JMRC

The Joint Multinational Readiness Center has established a program to teach unit personnel to conduct recovery operations in a combat environment.

In 2009 and 2010, the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) at Hohenfels, Germany, built a
facility where deploying units can gain hands-on experience with tactical recovery operations. At this facility, units revisit the fundamentals of recovery with heavy emphasis on precombat checks and inspections. Soldiers receive hands-on training with damaged vehicles and conduct recovery in a simulated tactical environment. The combat recovery training site developed by the Adler observer-controller trainer (O/C–T) team reflects the JMRC commitment to provide deploying units with a superior training experience.

Recovery operations can play a significant role in unit operations and, in some cases, involve brigade-level attention when they require fires, air, and battlespace coordination. The recovery training program began in recognition of this and in response to the need for recovery crews to gain valuable hands-on experience in a realistic environment.

The recovery facility training philosophy focuses on empowering junior leaders to make critical decisions on the ground in response to various training scenarios. This gives units the competence and confidence to perform these tasks under fire while deployed. Planners can gain valuable experience in mission planning for events outside of the recovery arena and create models to validate the military decisionmaking process.

Training events employ the resources commonly associated with a combat training center: realistic and relevant scenarios, battlefield effects, demanding scenarios, high standards for success, and the assistance of dedicated O/C–T cadre. This article explores the application of these features as they apply to preparing recovery teams and units for deployment.

Vehicle Recovery Models
The JMRC model for training recognizes two basic models for vehicle recovery: tow and platform. Tow recovery involves any method of moving a vehicle in which at least one axle assembly is still in contact with the ground and capable of supporting the vehicle’s weight. This may include flat towing if enough of the vehicle’s drive train remains intact.

When a crew only pulls the vehicle, such as during hasty recoveries from engagement areas, it is categorized as tow recovery for the purpose of this discussion. This could include a large vehicle such as an M984 heavy expanded-mobility tactical truck wrecker dragging a damaged M1151 high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV), even if both axles are missing. In such cases, vehicle towing only removes the personnel and equipment from danger, and platform recovery must be performed immediately afterward.

Although tow recoveries may be deliberate or hasty, all platform recovery operations are considered deliberate actions requiring coordination and planning. Coordination and planning may take place before the mission. For example, a unit could include as part of its equipment a palletized load system or load handling system platform and recovery vehicle capable of supporting the recovery of an up-armored HMMWV.

The Adler O/C–T team employs several methods and phased training for units to become proficient in vehicle recovery. The phases include comprehension of recovery methods and equipment familiarization, hands-on recovery competence, and execution of a complete recovery mission.

Leader Development Training
Units usually begin training recovery operations within the first couple of days of arriving at JMRC. The training begins with a leader development phase focused on doctrine and developing subject-matter experts within the unit. Adler maintenance O/C–Ts evaluate leaders’ comprehension of recovery methods and their understanding of doctrine by reviewing unit standing operating procedures (SOPs) and observing Soldier training. This method stresses the importance of developing confidence and competence within the unit through foundation building and task repetition.

The unit’s SOP must address doctrine and assigned tasks for all personnel involved with recovery operations, to include medical providers and security personnel. The document exists as a template for leaders to plan and execute recovery tasks ranging from simple, hasty operations to complex, deliberate operations while in contact with enemy forces. Unit leaders responsible for training the standards in the SOP must display proficiency through discussion and demonstration with the O/C–Ts.

This phase of training is grounded in the principle that unit leaders are the ones best qualified to train their units and support doctrine and regulations, which identify the commander of a unit as the primary trainer. Throughout this phase, tactical aspects of recovery, such as precombat checks and inspections, rehearsals, and tactical movement skills, are demonstrated by unit leaders. Unit leaders also train Soldiers on the basic components of organic recovery equipment, including application, maintenance, and safety.

The benefits of initiating training using this model are multifold. Leaders in the unit gain confidence and learn from mistakes in a low-threat environment. Soldiers gain knowledge and appreciation for standards. Learning from their supervisors builds Soldiers’ trust and confidence. Occurring early in the training cycle, this model serves as an enabler for units to identify tactics, techniques, and procedures and develop them further during the rotation. The O/C–T team clearly establishes itself as the supporter of Army doctrine and a source of information for units. Monitoring unit leaders through direct observation, safety verification, and mentorship reinforces this relationship.

Units also practice fundamental skills early in the rotation and build habits that will serve them well throughout deployment. This is extremely important in the current environment of rapid turnover and inexperience found at junior levels. Once the unit demonstrates a thorough understanding of the process, it moves to more challenging training in a field environment.

Hands-On Training
In the maneuver training area, recovery crews gain exposure to and proficiency with individual and crew skills. The training aides used include wheeled cargo trucks, “replicate” vehicles, and battle-loss combat vehicles. The first hands-on phase of training allows units to practice the steps necessary to execute safe, deliberate recovery operations in a nontactical environment. The intent of this phase is to provide units with the training aides and terrain needed to successfully assess and perform recovery operations.

The terrain presents multiple challenges, including offset recoveries, a mire pit, and high-angle (up to 45 degrees), long, uneven drag lanes. In this environment, recovery teams can practice until they reach proficiency. The ability to train on these simple tasks can result in units reducing recovery times on actual situational training exercise (STX) lanes by 75 percent or 1½ hours.

JMRC also uses replicate vehicles fabricated by a local vendor from high-grade rolled steel for recovery training. Because even the most durable vehicles will degrade after repeated exposure to rolling and dropping, the replicate vehicles were designed to provide realistic frames for recovery teams to practice in extreme conditions.

The current fleet of replicate vehicles at JMRC includes a mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle and an M1126 Stryker infantry carrier vehicle. Both are built to general size and weight requirements, with tow points found where they would be on actual vehicles. They are constructed with welded interior bulkheads to withstand repeated abuse. The smooth exterior construction ensures that recovery crews solve each problem using doctrinal methods and established tow points.

JMRC provides units with the opportunity to work on battle-damaged equipment procured from theaters of operation. This procurement was facilitated with the assistance of project managers and theater transportation agencies. The current inventory includes MRAP variants and a Stryker infantry carrier. The vehicles are not as durable as the replicate systems, but they provide recovery crews with the opportunity to work around authentic systems and evaluate compromised vehicles for improvised recovery methods.

A full day of noncommissioned-officer-led training at the site usually provides units with enough time to ensure that crews reach the necessary level of proficiency to move on to the next phase of training.

Recovery Mission
Phase three of the training is the STX, which provides units with the opportunity to execute recovery operations as a tactical mission. This phase incorporates battlefield effects that include indirect fire, small-arms harassing and direct fire, and ground threats. Mounted and dismounted role players provide the units with the opportunity to exercise escalation of force and rules of engagement procedures.

The unit response to these scenarios drives reciprocal action that may lead to an escalation or de-escalation of the event. When engaged by an identified enemy threat, units may also employ air support and indirect fire support to counter enemy activity. The effects of both of these are reproduced with simulated indirect fire and live aviation assets, including medical evacuation assets. Trained and certified combat lifesavers are also given the opportunity to practice their skills when treating casualties. However, to achieve success in this phase, units must give careful consideration to the planning process long before executing the mission.

Information concerning the operational environment is provided through two methods. First, units receive a relief-in-place in-brief from the JMRC cadre. This initial briefing, given as part of the reception, staging, onward movement, and integration process, provides units with general background information on the enemy situation, adjacent and supporting units, and other operational data.

Subsequent complementary information is fed through a series of fragmentary orders given during the STX. Each fragmentary order directs units to perform specific movement operations with “be prepared to” missions that include recovery operations. At this time, units at the battalion level implement the military decisionmaking process and orders-generating processes while company-level units begin the troop leading procedures process. Both orders generation and troop leading procedures must take into account factors and variables that affect the mission.

Many recovery operations considerations are similar to those for standard movement missions. Recovery operations planners should consider—

  • Situational information concerning the terrain, with imagery and enemy situational templates and overlays.
  • Mission requirements that identify the recovery type.
  • Execution information for the liaison officer to coordinate aviation support.
  • Passage of lines, adjacent unit coordination, actions on the objective, and special equipment considerations.
  • Timeline information that concerns battlespace owners but prompts the unit to make considerations along the “¹/³ to ²/³” rule and schedule rehearsals.
  • Additional support assets that may include heavy-lift assets or security elements.
  • Information most often forgotten but very important, including frequency cut sheets for battlespace owners, aviation units, higher headquarters, and mission commanders; reporting requirements; and commander’s critical information requirements.

Throughout the operation, staff and mission elements of the unit must enforce strict reporting procedures in order to maintain situational awareness for the commander and ensure that all possible battlefield enablers are used for mission success.

As units complete the planning cycle, O/C–Ts closely monitor them at all levels. A unit’s ability to manage time and resources in order to execute recovery missions is critical to its success when deployed. Careful consideration of synchronizing expectations and clearly defining roles and responsibilities becomes essential. Commanders cannot overemphasize or enforce too stringently the need for precombat checks and inspections at all levels and at critical times of the operation. Units that master these foundation-building tasks will most likely succeed and excel in recovery tasks.

Future Deployments
Future growth of the JMRC vehicle recovery program includes constructing replicates of other standard wheeled-vehicle platforms (such as the up-armored HMMWV, civilian line-haul tractor, and mobile tactical vehicle) and armored vehicles (such as the MRAP all terrain vehicle). Reasonable fabrication costs make these acquisitions feasible for supporting unit home station training as well.

The use of replicate equipment also represents an environmentally responsible approach that keeps hazardous materials out of training areas. Even cleaned and purged vehicles can damage the environment in training areas. Repeated recovery operations result in broken parts and litter that are not always recovered. Over time, this can lead to unsightly areas and costly remediation. Fabricated replicates provide a clean, durable, affordable, and responsive option.

As a dedicated training facility with a full-time cadre of maintenance experts, the recovery facility also provides a location for units throughout U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) to practice recovery operations outside of their normal training cycles. Units preparing for deployment or simply desiring to improve their skills can use the facility between major training events. Partnership agreements between JMRC and sustainment units throughout USAREUR are already being established to maximize this training opportunity.

The idea of providing recovery training at JMRC began a few years ago in response to battlefield realities, but the recovery training program went through a period of rapid growth and conceptual development in 2010. It now represents a focused training model grounded in system development for all participants in recovery operations up to the brigade level.

The Adler team continues to develop the recovery operations training facility as the premier training facility in USAREUR and as a concept for other locations to employ and reap benefits from. The facility represents a flexible model of resource requirements and intensity for units to “train to win.”

Major Derek W. Hoffman is a support operations observer-controller trainer at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels, Germany.

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