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Tom Rozman: Engaged & involved leadership, focused on the mission

Engaged & involved leadership, focused on the mission

The Night TOC

Article by Tom Rozman

Many who have served at battalion and above formation level, especially officers and non-commissioned officers, are familiar with and have experience with the “tactical operations center”  (TOC) of such formations.  It, or its similar derivation in other armies or parallel type organizations, is a 24/7 operation that serves as the mechanism by which the formation monitors all ongoing situational information of subordinate formations, the larger formation in terms of primary mission and anticipated contingencies and the senior formation of which the organization is a part.  Certainly at the different levels of formation, aspects and means of information and communications adapt to the more extended planning, time and geographic perspective, and means of information gathering and providing as well as communication.  Technology has a continuous impact on the latter and thus the operation of the TOC.

The TOC supports a command element with this information processing, collection and sharing that consists of the formation commander and designated subordinate elements that may vary.  The command group, or element, often may operate separated from the TOC but will also typically employ the TOC as the base of its command and control function.  Thus the TOC is constantly obtaining and processing situational information, assessing this information at the request of the commander or  doing so proactively against developing trends or anticipated plans. This activity and function support the commander with as timely as possible situational information necessary to support the decision process for ongoing or anticipated operations,

The TOC will be constituted and deployed as soon as a formation is deployed operationally, be it for training, disaster/emergency relief, combat—in other words, any time the formation leaves its garrison and deploys.  It is typically constituted from the formation’s plans, operations, training, intelligence, signals, and chemical/ biological  staff assets.  A parallel center will form for the logistics and support functions and will locate separately in the operational area.  It is typically composed of the personnel, medical, supply, maintenance and other logistical support staff assets  of the formation.  The two centers if competent organizations, though located in different parts of an operating zone, will be in regular communication throughout the formation’s deployment window.

The TOC in combat oriented formations is typically highly mobile and does not remain in the same location for any length of time, the frequency of displacements being determined by the tempo of operations and assessment of vulnerability to threat.  In more benign environments, the TOC may remain static for days, even longer and in high risk high threat environments may displace daily or as threat information indicates.  All of a TOC’s systems, to include rest accommodations for TOC personnel, must be flexible and mobile.

Because the TOC must operate 24/7, it is organized with normally two shifts—a 12 hour day shift and a 12 hour night shift.  There may be variations on the theme but the objective is to assure a rest and sleep time for both shifts.  Continuous operations for extended periods will produce dangerous levels of sleep deprivation greatly deteriorating shift member mental acuity and ability to function in an environment where those capacities, if compromised, may produce the worst of situations.  TOC elements in certain environments may have to attain a high level of agility to survive because they are a very attractive target to an enemy.

The TOC day and night shifts are designed to operate capably with the personnel assigned.  However, if a situation develops to a certain level of urgency and need, elements of or the entire off duty shift may be activated to reinforce or augment the duty shift.

A forward deployed armored division had organized its day and night TOC shifts primarily from assets of the four G-3 (Plans, Operations, Training and Training support sections) with elements in their areas from the G-2 (Intelligence), division communications officer, engineer, chemical and several other sections.  The night shift was primarily organized from the 3 officers and 7 non-commissioned officers (NCOs) of the Assistant G-3 for Training Resources Office and several other personnel.  The Assistant G-3 for Operations Office led the day shift.  Each shift chief was a senior major in several cases promotable majors.

Over an 18 month period the division TOC organization was rehearsed and exercised, usually two to three times before anticipated deployments. The preparatory work was planned and orchestrated by the headquarters commandant, commander of the division headquarters company who led the company’s deployed operations.  The exercises included vehicle inspections, movement, organization and TOC set-up and break down operations.  Carving this time out of extremely busy ongoing training, maintenance and modernization reorganization operations of the division staff from its garrison location was no small task, but it was done.   The TOC shifts gained a good sense of their organization, equipment, systems, duties, and movement in a deployed operational situation.

Despite the division staff’s focus on the support of its brigades and battalions in the extensive General Defense Plan mission, oriented gunnery and maneuver training at the 7th Army Training Support Command’s major training areas and the extensive ongoing modernization training as it integrated the new M1 Abrams Tanks and M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles into its battalions, along with other associated modernization equipment, and the doctrinal changes associated with the new armored systems and equipment—the division had to find the time to ensure its tactical command and control capabilities were exercised and functional.  The resulting training schedules were busy and tight on time.

In the event, the division deployed its TOC organization operationally twice over an 18 month period.   Both deployments were REFORGER (Return Forces to Germany) driven deployments.  The first engaged the division’s headquarters as the REGORGER control headquarters in Giessen and the second as a division engaged in operations with its units deployed in the exercise.  The exercises were multi-division force on force massive maneuver exercises engaging units for the better part of a month over a vast maneuver box in Central West Germany.  Half of the participating units were based in Germany and half were formations deploying from the United States.  The latter demonstrated the ability to reinforce Europe rapidly with substantial levels of combat capable units.

During the 18 month cycle that had begun at the beginning of the calendar year the night TOC shift unit was completely newly formed from personnel assigned to the also newly formed G-3 Training Support (Resources) Section from elsewhere in the division headquarters or were newly assigned to the division headquarters.   It was a new team and it had some tough missions it was tackling, not least being a massive training resource data management system using the computer capabilities of the time.

The new staff section leader had little time around other challenges to prepare for the first REFORGER exercise night shift.  An initial train up deployment for a week of pre-exercise training was in the offing within weeks of joining the G-3.  The major had recent battalion mechanized TOC experience in his preceding assignment and in previous assignments he had operated battalion TOCs for a mechanized battalion and an infantry battalion.  He had also operated as part of a divisional and separate brigade TOC, an infantry division TOC and an Airborne Corps TOC.  He had a sense of how each level operated and the demands and requirements.   He brought this experience to bear in forming the new division TOC night shift.

The officers and NCOs that had been brought together in the section proved a talented and able group of soldiers.  Some had served in TOCs previously but most had not.  Concentrated coaching and mentoring would be necessary.  The major wasted no time and engaged the forming team reviewing published procedures, existing after action/lessons learned material.  The organization being newly built from scratch, there was no institutional memory except from the other G-3 sections which were also assimilating new people.

Taking a team approach, the major engaged his officers and NCOs pulling on their experience and using his to develop a team organization against the anticipated night TOC mission.  The new team’s first test out of the box would be the TOC deployment to support the division’s REFORGER Controller mission.  The pre-exercise orientation training would be an opportunity to focus in on organization and developing aspects of the team’s techniques and procedures.  Progress was made and the team seemed to be coming together.

Shortly afterward, the division headquarters deployed to Giessen and a warehouse reconfigured with internal partitioning into a 24/7 control headquarters.  The TOC operation would operate from a large space, 30 feet by 40 feet with a 20 feet from floor to roof rafters.  The space connected to the rest of the headquarters at two entries to corridors at the entry end of the room.  The side walls had large displays of posted data with a row of tables on each side constituting banks of phones, radios and other communications systems manned by officers and NCOs maintaining constant communication with all participating divisional, separate brigade and corps headquarters, exercise controllers and other participating civil government organizations, the latter since the maneuver would be on the economy.

At the far wall of the large space was a floor to ceiling 30 foot long by 18 feet high map of the maneuver box where the locations of all units to battalion level were posted and updated.  TV monitors allowed the command group to continuously monitor this map and the tempo of communications and messaging at the phone and radio stations to which the command group was also connected. and the movements of the TOC shift staff.

The TOC units had a door from the wall on the left side bank of phones and radios that led to a situation area for the night and day TOC units to prepare before coming on shift and brief offline outside the situation area.  The situation area was a zero smoking area for safety and several other reasons.

The shifts, night and day, were in a virtual “fish bowl” of senior observers.  The scrutiny was intense, especially for a first time effort.  But the team’s pre-efforts came together well.  The Night TOC shift handled a demanding and dynamic mission very well, capitalizing on each team member’s capabilities and developing new   capabilities especially collective team capacity.  Though a different environment to the deployment that would follow some 10 months later when the TOC would be displacing and in a fully tactical configuration, the Giessen format exercised the Night TOC Team in a rotating 12 hour shift environment with all of the elements of the tactical operation.  The configuration was a basically tactical configuration though the TOC did not displace for the duration of the exercise.

The team became comfortable with briefing senior officer elements regularly and on an ad hoc basis. One of the latter being a French Army element, the colonel U. S. liaison officer accompanying, a St Cyr graduate, being a past U.S. Military Academy instructor of the major.

The only point of correction the team received was late one night while the major was monitoring the situation map, once upon a time a cigar smoker, the major absentmindedly was handling his pen like a cigar.  The phone rang and one of the situation officers took the call.  It was the division commander.  He wanted to speak to the major.  The general asked the major why with the zero smoking policy he was smoking a cigar.  The major was at first surprised but instantly realizing that on the monitor his absent minded handling of his pen gave that impression.   He promptly apologized to the general for the unintended impression explaining that he only had a pen in his hand.  Everyone had a good laugh and continued with the mission.

The exercise came to a close with a strong validation of the reinforcing concept of the REFORGER exercise.  The elements of the division prepared for movement back to home station and executed the move, returning to the demanding GDP training and division modernization missions.

The Night TOC Team had come together well.  It could look forward to the next deployment with confidence that it would perform its shift tasks well. The major made a point of congratulating the officers and NCOs of the team and thanking them for their hard work and commitment to a job well done.

From a leadership standpoint the situation was more than a little challenging with the formation of a new staff section, focus on demanding elements of the GDP mission, and the modernization mission.  Adding the challenges of building a Night TOC Shift Team from scratch with a tight schedule to a deployment where that team would have to perform, created a very great array of opportunities to excel, perhaps too many.

But the leader and the other leaders of the team immediately worked in, around other work, reviews of division procedures for the TOC, inventorying capabilities of team members, fitting those to team organization, identifying gaps and buttressing the gaps with review, coaching and mentoring and drills.  This work in the event paid off.  Engaged and involved leadership, focus on the mission, and a team approach paid dividends—the team formed and got the job done and did it well.