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The LNO—a Brigade Liaison Officer to XVIIIth Airborne Corps

The LNO—a Brigade Liaison Officer to XVIIIth Airborne Corps

Article by Tom Rozman

A separate infantry brigade garrisoned at a large installation in the Southeast United States had been working through a mission change.  The brigade had reorganized several times over the last two decades to include mission changes.  Its most recent mission had been school support.  As the Army reoriented itself on new missions post Viet Nam Conflict, one development was to better configure the force package capabilities of the rapid reaction XVIIIth Airborne Corps for possible Middle East situations.  The Corps had minimal heavy force or armored elements allocated.  Potential operations in the Middle East as recent events had indicated would need such ground force capability.

As an interim measure to rectify the deficiency, the brigade’s mission was changed.  It became a Forces Command asset with a mission to augment the XVIIIth Corps.  The brigade was already configured as a separate infantry brigade with two thirds of its organization in a mechanized infantry brigade format.  It was assigned an armored cavalry troop equipped with the M551 Sheridan Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle, an armored battalion equipped with M60A3 tanks, a mechanized battalion equipped with M113A1 Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) and a brigade headquarters company equipped with M577 Armored Command Post Vehicles, a variant of the M113.

However, the brigade’s second infantry battalion, though on schedule to reorganize as a mechanized battalion, remained a foot infantry unit dependent for tactical and operational mobility on truck or helicopter support.  The schedule for providing its M113 APCs had been extended due to the priority for new M113 production or rebuild going to reequipping Israeli units after the then recent war.  As well, the combat engineer company, an almost battalion size unit commanded by a major, remained truck equipped rather than M113 equipped.  It too was to be equipped with M113 family vehicles.  The composite artillery battalion remained a primarily towed artillery unit with an incomplete self-propelled capability and the composite support battalion, signal company, intelligence detachment, air defense platoon (Red Eye), and military police platoon had also not completely reconfigured to a mechanized separate brigade support format.  The brigade’s aviation detachment was consistent with separate brigade organization at the time.

The above hybrid maneuver organization caused challenges at this stage of the brigade’s integration into XVIIIth Corps for contingency planning and command and control exercises.  To bring the still dismounted infantry battalion to an effective mobility capability to conform to the brigade’s tactical and operational needs to meet mission required significant aviation or transportation support augmentation from non-brigade units.  The mobility differential was a problem.

Ultimately, the Army’s plan was to incorporate the fully mechanized brigade as a third brigade of a mechanized division to be garrisoned at a large installation across the state on its Atlantic seaboard.  But this ultimate force structure objective was several years into the future and the brigade had to meet its heavy package mission to XVIIIth Corps with the equipment at hand.  So, the schedule of training exercises was busy and demanding to include field exercises, deployments and many tactical exercises without troops (TEWTs).  One of these, a full XVIIIth Corps exercise that would be conducted across the vast territory of Ft. Bragg, North Carolina’s Training Areas and Landing Zones.  The brigade would participate in this week plus exercise by air deploying select elements of its headquarters and other units.  The deploying elements would move to the installation’s Army Airfield and load C130 aircraft for the tactical deployment to Pope Air Force Base adjacent to Ft. Bragg.

A critical function for any major tactical formation headquarters such as a division, separate brigade or group and other formations in its effective communications with a superior corps headquarters is that of the liaison officer (LNO).  Yet, as critical as it is, the function is hardly ever embodied when units are not operationally deployed.  When it is activated, officers usually being understrength in commands, an officer with other current duties is temporarily assigned, often with little guidance or preparation—a very ad hoc situation.

The brigade’s situation was as stated above.  The Corps TEWT had come on rather suddenly leading to accelerated planning. As the Brigade’s plans and operations staff warmed to the planning task, several veterans of deployed operations in Viet Nam who had experience with inter command post work and had staff college training, recognized the need to activate the LNO function between the brigade and the corps.  A decision was taken by brigade to detail the most experienced maneuver battalion level assistant plans, operations and training officer for air operations (S-3 Air) in the brigade to the duty.

Consequently, barely a week before the deployment, a recently promoted captain of several months in the infantry battalion was notified by his S-3 that he would have the honor of representing the brigade at the corps tactical operations center (TOC) as its LNO in the upcoming Corps TEWT at Ft. Bragg.  Needless to say, the captain quickly notified his wife, got his kit together, gave guidance to the S-3 driver to configure the S-3 M151 quarter ton truck and its trailer for air deployment and field operations and got his hands on anything that outlined what LNOs do.  He had just worked through several other busy missions for the battalion that had been very involved—one being support of the U.S. Army Infantry Board’s Squad Automatic Weapons Test.

The captain had also served in combat armored and dismounted battalions and brigades and at division level at a major Southwestern installation and in South Korea.  He had experience at every level of command and staff from platoon to division.

At the designated time, the newly minted brigade LNO and his driver reported to the installation’s Army Airfield along with the brigade’s other elements participating in the Corps TEWT.  The vehicles were loaded into the C130 bay and secured by the Air Force loadmasters.  The soldiers and officers of the detachments strapped into the web seats along the sides of the aircraft and on load master thumbs up and tower approval, the pilot moved the aircraft to the runway.  Shortly the C130 was accelerating down the runway and taking flight.  As approved cruising altitude was achieved the direction oriented on Pope AFB and the two-hour flight began.  The noise inside the aircraft bay made voice communication almost impossible and the vibration was enervating—but soldiers are expert at sleeping anywhere and so, some rest for the task ahead was taken.

On reaching Pope AFB, the brigade’s TEWT element promptly deplaned and moved to its first TOC location.  Because electronic warfare had advanced as it had, the brigade TOC would jump to a new location every 24 hours as a measure to reduce its vulnerability as a target for raids, artillery or air attack due to its electronic signature being detected.

Interestingly, the corps TOC would remain in a single location for the entire TEWT.

The LNO promptly moved to the Corps TOC’s location with what guidance the brigade S-3, S-2 (Intelligence Officer), S-4 (Logistics Officer) and other participating brigade staff were able to provide.  On arrival a relatively small grouping of framed tents had formed.  The LNO positioned his vehicle at the dismount point adjacent to the tent area.  He then moved through the area introducing himself to the staff section personnel, specifically targeting the head of section.  Given that a form of controlled chaos was in operation—this first foray at the Corps TOC was fluid and short on information.

After sharing brigade information and gleaning what could be gathered for relay to the brigade, especially insight on the Corps set-up and its personnel and how the overall and the specific were shaping up, the LNO began the journey back to the brigade’s TOC—it was winter and a cold snap hat hit and the sun had set.  As it happened, the TOC had displaced and radio silence was being observed.  Return to the TOC that night was a longer experience than expected, the unusual cold adding a dimension that made it a very long night for the LNO and driver.

And so began a week of continuous back and forth travel, augmented with restrained radio communication, movement and liaison.  The function evolved with the various personalities settling into their roles and the developing situation of the exercise and the maturing of the concept of how best to use the liaison officer capability.

Interestingly, over the duration of the week, on each of the LNO’s returns to the Corps TOC, the footprint of the TOC became larger and larger with ancillary support units until by the end of the week it resembled a small city.  The dismount point was moved farther and farther away from the Corps TOC proper.  By the end of the week, the LNO was having to hike a quarter mile to reach the staff section area.  The Corps headquarters commandant had set up a tent for the LNOs but it made a minimum contribution to the function and the radio on the ¼ ton was increasingly inaccessible without a long walk.

The exercise proved a highly useful experience for all formation levels with a rich lessons learned quotient.  The LNO learned much about how to make the function work.  The corps reexamined its TOC operations in several key areas.

As a leadership experience—the LNO confirmed that by setting a positive tone and approach even when little is known and the task is sudden.  By presenting the right example, good results will follow.  If the leader plans as well as possible, obtaining as much information as available, remains flexible and takes events a day at a time, while still projecting as far out as possible for planning, even a difficult and ambiguous situation can be worked through successfully.  As well, if one keeps their head and remains ordered and exudes confidence, even in chaos, a situation will be workable.

Another aspect of leadership, the LNO had an important teammate in this difficult exercise—the driver, a junior enlisted man.  He treated the driver with regard and respect.  It was reciprocated—some of the tactical night journeys for hours in the cold and dark across Ft. Bragg’s DZs without overturning or worse were marvels of skill and ability by this good soldier.  He deserved every bit of respect the LNO gave him.

As well, the performance of a duty well by any leader or aspiring leader, even a difficult or less understood duty, cements reputation.  One of the assistant brigade operations officers the LNO became familiar with would, as a promotable captain, would be assigned to the LNO’s battalion as the S-3, a major’s position, and the LNO’s superior officer.  This outstanding combat veteran would rise to lieutenant general in later years.

The LNO after many more adventures as an S-3 Air would be selected to command a mechanized infantry company in the brigade and would do very well in that role.  In the event, the sudden LNO assignment, that seemed a bad deal at a bad time at first blush, was a first class leadership development vehicle when approached with the right attitude and embraced as an opportunity.