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Theater Immersion: Protecting Precious Resources

In the summer of 2004, First Army mobilized a number of Army National Guard units as part of the 278th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) from Tennessee and the 155th Brigade Combat Team (BCT) from Mississippi. Both combat teams were mobilized at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. The 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) provided command and control. The 3d Brigade, 87th Division (Training Support), which is an Army Reserve training support brigade (TSB), served as the lead trainers for this mobilization. First Army introduced theater immersion, then a new approach to post-mobilization training. This technique is now the watchword for post-mobilization training throughout First Army.

Tasked to provide theater immersion training to 16,000 Soldiers from 4 National Guard brigades and several smaller units at the lowest possible cost, the Soldiers of the 3d Brigade tapped into their own creativity and the expertise of the First Army G–8. The result was a cost avoidance of more than $10.5 million.

Theater Immersion Defined

The theater immersion training technique places units into an environment comparable to the one that they will encounter in combat in order to rapidly build combat-ready formations led by competent, confident leaders and manned by battle-proofed Soldiers who embody the Warrior Ethos. One of the basic objectives of this training is to train officers to “see first, understand first, and act first.” This training environment uses a multilevel approach that provides a combat training center-like experience that replicates conditions in the theater of operation.

Theater immersion training requires the award of civilian support contracts, construction of forward operating bases (FOBs) and facilities for military operations in urbanized terrain (MOUT) training, and reconfiguration of standard firing ranges to accommodate ground assault convoy and MOUT live-fire training.

Initial Investments

The framework for theater immersion training was created with the clear intent of conserving taxpayers’ dollars. However, creating a replica of Iraq and Afghanistan in the lush terrain of southern Mississippi was an expensive endeavor. The First Army G–8 provided consistent, critical assistance and streamlined measures to approve and resource funding requests rapidly.

Initial investments were high because the schedule for the mobilization of the Camp Shelby installation staff, the arrival of the 278th RCT, and the mobilization of the 3d Brigade Army Reserve Soldiers was condensed. The 3d Brigade had to construct training sites and be ready to receive Soldiers within 90 days of receiving its warning order.

‘Seeing First’

The 3d Brigade S–4 office was designed to support daily peacetime operations and surge logistics support operations for observer-controller/trainers as they trained Reserve component units during their annual training periods. Its capabilities included only maintenance oversight, logistics services, property book management, resource management, and food service oversight. Because of the magnitude of the mission the brigade and First Army faced, success depended on the brigade’s optimizing its logistics capabilities. “Seeing first” required reorganizing the 3d Brigade S–4 to build an Active and Reserve component logistics team. This reorganization was the foundation of an effective cost avoidance campaign. (See chart at below.)

Although the Active Army and Active Guard/Reserve strength listed on the 3d Brigade’s 2004 table of distribution and allowances (TDA) provided effective peacetime operational support, it could not effectively support the brigade’s new mission. Additional Army Reserve Soldiers had to be mobilized to support the new mission. Mission analysis revealed the requirement for a support operations section manned by mobilized Soldiers with assistance from organic units. Units were canvassed to find Soldiers with expertise in transportation- and construction-related fields. Using organic resources, the 3d Brigade S–4 shop organized functional “branches” consisting of supply and services, lodging coordination, purchasing and contracting, transportation, warehouse operations, contingency operations fund management, maintenance, and construction/engineer sections designed to support the post-mobilization training mission.

‘Understanding First’

“Understanding first” entailed understanding the role of cost avoidance in theater immersion. This knowledge enabled First Army to constantly improve its facility at Camp Shelby. With initiative and ingenuity, the 3d Brigade was able to develop a world-class training site and a model of what “right” looks like.

‘Acting First’

“Acting first” entailed building an equipment support package. A thorough mission analysis determined that a typical TSB S–4 TDA could not logistically support the mission, so equipment would have to be borrowed. The TSB TDA includes observer-controller/trainer-related authorizations—notably, a mix of 70 percent M1008 11⁄4-ton cargo trucks and M1009 3⁄4-ton utility trucks and 30 percent M998 high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicles (humvees). Critically needed assets not on the TDA included one M109 21⁄2-ton expansible van, one M816 5-ton wrecker, two maintenance contact trucks, and three tactical quiet generators. Brigade logisticians aggressively sought equipment from a variety of units throughout the southeastern United States.

Over 150 items were borrowed, including M915 tractor trucks, M923 5-ton cargo trucks, M872A3 “lowboy” trailers, M105 5-ton cargo trailers, M149 water tank trailers, JP–8 and diesel tanker pump units, materials-handling equipment (MHE), and a variety of tactical quiet generators. Training support equipment borrowed included sleep tents, light sets, antennas, navigational equipment, night vision goggles, and body armor.

The Unit Level Logistics System-Ground (ULLS–G) clerk immediately uploaded data on all equipment to track scheduled maintenance, preventive maintenance checks and services, and dispatches. Critical to early success was the establishment of memorandums of agreement (MOAs) with loaning units to borrow the equipment and with the local direct support maintenance activities to service it. The success of these actions was evident when the 3d Brigade’s M915 tractor trucks logged over 40,000 accident-free miles.

Borrowing the needed equipment resulted in a significant cost avoidance when compared to leasing the equipment. Local quotes for commercial equipment similar to the loaned tactical equipment formed the core of the estimates. Examples ranged from monthly contracted costs of $15,000 for the civilian equivalent of the M915 tractor truck to $2,700 for a 10,000-pound forklift. Over a 12-month period, the total cost avoidance gained by using Army equipment was more than $3 million.

Contracted Lodging

The complexity of lodging over 700 observer-controller/trainers and simultaneously training two brigade combat teams initially presented a formidable challenge for the 3d Brigade. Initiative, detailed cost analysis, and timely resourcing from the First Army G–8 resulted in a significant cost avoidance. With the allotted lodging rate approaching $60 daily, small savings of a few dollars per room translated into huge figures when multiplied by the number of personnel housed. The contracted lodging savings averaged $11 per day for each of more than 500 hotel rooms and $16 per day for each of more than 75 apartment beds. The total cost avoidance exceeded $2.2 million.

Supplies From DRMOs

Various Defense Reutilization and Marketing Offices (DRMOs) were large contributors to the cost avoidance campaign. The 3d Brigade logistics team constantly used the Internet to seek nonstandard sources of supply from DRMOs by visiting http://gsaxcess.gov. This Web site, which requires a user name and password, provides detailed item descriptions, condition codes, real-time available quantities, and locations of specific items.

All items obtained from DRMOs were condition code H (salvage and free issue). Significant items that the brigade obtained included more than 160 camouflage systems, 22 tents of various types, digital cameras, and numerous cell phones that were used for improvised explosive device awareness training.

More than 200 items were obtained from DRMOs at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Stewart, Georgia; Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Benning, Georgia; and Tucson, Arizona, for a savings of more than $200,000.

Right-Hand-Drive Vehicles

Soldiers in Afghanistan have to use commercial right-hand-drive vehicles periodically. The easy way to facilitate training on this type of vehicle would be to lease the vehicles. The brigade’s servicing contracting office determined that commercial sources would require a 12-month minimum contract. The lowest contract price for five right-hand-drive vehicles was more than $94,000 a year.

As an alternative to leasing right-hand-drive vehicles, the 3d Brigade S–4 and the 87th Division G–4 arranged for the purchase of five conversion kits for just over $1,200 each. The total cost for converting the vehicles to right-hand drive, which included onsite technical support for the initial conversion, was slightly more than $7,500, for a cost avoidance of more than $86,000.

Civilians on the Battlefield

To enhance theater immersion, contracted civilians were designated as mayors, police chiefs, and religious leaders in villages throughout Camp Shelby. Training Soldiers were required to use embedded interpreters to negotiate with the village leaders. Over 300 contracted civilians were required to conduct this activity, so cost avoidance was the 3d Brigade’s watchword in executing the contracts.

The 349th Logistics Support Battalion commander served as the contracting officer’s representative and synchronized specific requirements for contracted civilians. Detailed planning prevented excessive numbers of civilian role players at each site and ensured the prudent expenditure of funds by making sure that they left when training was over.

Creativity, coupled with long-range planning, enabled the 3d Brigade to reduce contracted costs further. Streamlining civilian positions, lodging foreign language speakers on Camp Shelby, and using contracted dining facilities to eliminate per diem requirements contributed to a cost avoidance of over $2 million during the life cycle of the civilian contracts.

Projects Enabled by Cost Avoidance

Cost avoidance made funds available for other projects that otherwise would not have been possible. These included constructing live-fire MOUT shoot houses, FOBs and theater immersion villages. [Shoot houses are buildings used to facilitate live-fire room-clearing drills.]

Live-fire MOUT shoot houses. Soldiers from the 3d Brigade construction crew, affectionately titled “Acorn Construction” after the 87th Division’s unit insignia, and the 349th Logistics Support Battalion designed and constructed two live-fire shoot houses to further enhance training. All construction materials except ballistic shielding were purchased locally to reduce shipping charges. Contractor-designed and -built shoot houses typically cost over $600,000 each. However, with ingenuity and expertise, 3d Brigade Soldiers constructed both shoot houses for $120,000, saving nearly $1.1 million.

FOBs. Through close coordination with various agencies, including the First Army G–8 and the Camp Shelby Directorate of Public Works, the 3d Brigade spearheaded efforts to construct three FOBs capable of training battalion-sized formations. With details from deployed Soldiers and information gained from theater reconnaissance, these FOBs were duplicates of those in theater. Replicating theater FOBs meant emplacing 8-foot berms, entry-control points, powered sleep tents, unit tactical operating centers, blast-protection walls, and hygiene trailers—all enclosed with concertina wire and guard towers.

The Camp Shelby cantonment area provided another opportunity for significant cost avoidance and training. To eliminate construction costs, the 3d Brigade developed Camps Hit and Phoenix within the cantonment area, replicating Camp Phoenix in Afghanistan. These camps were very similar to other FOBs with entry-control points, bunkers, guard towers, and concertina wire. With the FOBs in the Camp Shelby training area and Camps Hit and Phoenix in the cantonment area, an entire BCT can be dispersed in situations similar to those it would encounter in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 223d Engineer Battalion of the Mississippi Army National Guard provided most of the groundwork for one FOB during its annual training, saving more than $150,000. Using organic operators on loaned equipment to construct three FOBs resulted in a total cost avoidance of over $400,000. By borrowing sleep tents from other First Army TSBs, the 3d Brigade saved over $148,000 that new tents would have cost. Soldiers designed and constructed each guard tower for $850—a considerable saving from the $8,300 cost of a commercially produced guard tower. The total cost avoidance for 10 towers was nearly $75,000.

Over 300,000 sandbags were needed to construct the three FOBs. Camp Shelby range control provided a “sandbagger” machine capable of filling four bags at a time, with an optimal output of only 1,800 bags a day. A viable labor force and time were the 3d Brigade’s greatest concerns with filling the needed sandbags. Through the combined efforts of 3d Brigade Soldiers, Camp Shelby Replacement Company Soldiers, and Mississippi Department of Corrections trustees, the bags were filled, saving over $300,000 in contracted labor costs.

Theater immersion villages. The construction of five villages, each capable of accommodating a company-sized formation, was possible only through the combined efforts of many agencies and staffs. The core component used to construct each village was a 40-foot container, which is similar to a typical Iraqi or Afghan residence. The current price of a commercially purchased container is approximately $14,000. Commercially available options included paint, prefabricated windows, and doors. To save money, the 3d Brigade S–4 procured 40-foot containers for $2,100 each and 20-foot containers for $1,500 each. Mobilized Army Reserve Soldiers painted and safely cut windows and doors in the containers. Avoided costs to supply one village with 10 containers exceeded $119,000.

The “Acorn Construction” crew built privacy walls, municipal buildings, taxi stands, tunnels, election facilities, joint coordination cells, tombs, low-hanging telephone wires, schools, and mosques with minarets to enhance the realism of the villages. Conservative cost avoidance estimates for this construction range from $500,000 to $750,000 as a result of using brigade resources rather than contractor designs and labor. The 3d Brigade logistics team also coordinated with local salvage yards to emplace over 40 wrecked cars painted as Iraqi and Afghan police cars and taxi cabs throughout the training area to enhance theater immersion. All were acquired at no charge, thanks to the support of the local community.

To emulate the Iraqi culture, logisticians placed authentic-looking duplicates of election posters and Arabic newspapers in the villages, and Arabic music and the call to prayer were broadcast from loudspeakers throughout each village.

Reorganization Lessons Learned

When the 3d Brigade reorganized, its officers and noncommissioned officers had to change the ways they thought and operated in order to make theater immersion training successful. The important issues they faced were highlighted in the theater immersion after-action review.

The brigade S–4 officer in charge (OIC) must immediately analyze personnel capabilities and form a mobilization support team. This team should perform daily operational roles, but its primary mission is to provide mobilization support. The S–4 OIC must develop a sustainment plan that includes contractor and support point-of-contact lists, checklists, and desktop standing operating procedures. He must have a close working relationship with the S–3 and the commander. He also must know and understand the training plan.

The brigade S–4 noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) is responsible for contingency operations. He must be a capable battlestaff NCO who is organized and able to brief support plans. As the contingency operations fund bankcard holder, he must be experienced and organized and have an in-depth knowledge of applicable budgetary laws and regulations. He must keep records by class of supply and unit or lane area. He must take the lead on systemic bookkeeping by maintaining accurate reports of after-action reviews, point-of-contact lists, and purchased item reference materials and reviewing them monthly.

The supply and services lodging OIC must be highly motivated, multifunctional, experienced, and capable of understanding the mobilization training plan as it relates to incoming observer-controller/trainers. He must be a capable battlestaff officer who is organized and able to brief support plans. He must assume the lead on lodging management and visit all lodging locations personally and develop close working relationships with the hotel and apartment managers.

The supply and services purchasing OIC must be aggressive in seeking nonstandard sources of supply for unusual items and services. He must have a working knowledge of construction or engineering and of Department of Defense and Army purchasing regulations and laws. He must keep records of source-of-supply contacts and prices. As the mobility support accountable officer, he must keep accurate records by class of supply and unit or lane area. Daily oversight of warehouse operations is a must. Hand receipts must be well organized and updated monthly. He must develop a concise issue and unit closeout plan and a plan for secure storage of all returned items.

The resource management and contracting OIC, or Department of the Army civilian in the 3d Brigade’s case, must be experienced with all aspects of resource management, contracting, and contingency operation fund management. He must be multifunctional and able to handle mobilization duties in addition to his regular job. Detailed planning and forecasting are critical if mobilization support is provided in more than one fiscal year. He must keep separate, detailed logs of contracts, purchase orders, and military interdepartmental purchase requests (MIPRs). Since he assists with lodging management, he also must personally visit all locations and develop close working relationships with all hotel and apartment managers.

The transportation NCOIC must be flexible and enterprising. He must be licensed on M915 tractor trucks, M923 5-ton trucks, and 4,000- to 10,000-pound forklifts. He should be a master driver with military occupational specialty 63B (light wheel vehicle mechanic) or 63W (wheel vehicle repairer). Transportation assets are likely to be borrowed equipment, so the transportation NCOIC should establish contacts early to acquire a robust equipment fleet. He should enter unit information into the ULLS–G immediately and forecast class IX (repair parts) costs. The workload will be extensive, so he should keep the fleet accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and have a minimum of four licensed operators. Records of all daily missions performed should be maintained.

The construction crew OIC or NCOIC must have construction or engineering experience. He also must be flexible and enterprising. The 3d Brigade peaked at 13 construction crew personnel, with an average of 4. For optimal operation, at least 8 to 10 personnel should be on board at all times. The OIC or NCOIC must be able to aggressively seek nonstandard sources of supply for unusual items and services daily. All crewmembers should have a working knowledge of construction or engineering. The OIC or NCOIC must keep daily and weekly records of tools and repair parts used and the projects on which they are used, and he should take photos for use with final class IV (construction and barrier materials) accounting procedures.

First Army is approaching its third full year of mobilization at Camp Shelby. The lessons learned there will be employed Army-wide. Logisticians and various installation staff representatives from First Army have visited Camp Shelby to learn about the cost avoidance campaign and to share their logistics support experiences. Detailed briefings, tours, techniques, and information on sources of supply are gladly shared. Options for cost avoidance while supporting theater immersion continue to be exploited in an effort to provide the most effective training possible for America’s finest as they continue the fight in the Global War on Terrorism.

Colonel Daniel L. Zajac is the U.S. Central Command Chief of Plans, J–5. He served as the Commander of the 3d Brigade, 87th Division (Training Support), at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, during the establishment of theater immersion training. He has a B.S. degree from the United States Military Academy, an M.A. degree from the University of Louisville, an M.M.A.S. degree from the Army Command and General Staff College’s School of Advanced Military Studies, and an M.M.A.S. degree from the Army War College Advanced Strategic Arts Program.

Lieutenant Colonel James A. Mosser is the G–4 Operations Officer for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Rapid Deployable Corps-Turkey. He was the 3d Brigade Executive Officer during the establishment of the theater immersion training site at Camp Shelby. He has a B.S. degree from St. Cloud State University and is a graduate of the Armor Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and the Army Command and General Staff College.