Soldiers with Fort Hood’s 504th Military Intelligence Brigade completed a significant challenge recently after completing their culminating training exercise since transitioning to an Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade last fall.
Testing MI soldiers’ proficiencies in intelligence collection and analysis across geographical locations, “Exercise Ready Phantom” instilled lessons learned not only for the military intelligence community, but the U.S. Army.
The exercise spanned four locations: the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, Calif.; Camp Bullis, Joint Base San Antonio; Fort Gordon, Ga.; and Fort Hood. Soldiers from the 504th partnered with 1st Cavalry Division soldiers at NTC during their recent rotation in September while receiving and fielding real-time intelligence reports to counterparts at Fort Gordon, Camp Bullis and Fort Hood.
This is the brigade’s first test as an Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade. The 504th tested its capabilities with the intent to demonstrate that the change from a Battlefield Surveillance Brigade to an EMIB did not affect the unit’s ability to complete its mission essential tasks.
Beyond the brigade’s 700 soldiers who participated, the 504th also sought to strengthen ties with its sister III Corps units, units under the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command and even a military intelligence brigade in the Texas Army National Guard. Units from the Fort Hood-based 11th Signal Brigade, 89th Military Police Brigade and 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, joined with the 116th Military Intelligence Brigade and the 71st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade to provide a Total Army Force-package for the exercise.
Maj. Christina Fanitzi, the 504th Military Intelligence Brigade’s operations officer, said the Ready Phantom exercise developed mission command and “distributed intelligence” skills for soldiers across multiple locations.
“This exercise was important for the brigade because it allowed us to see ourselves in terms of mission command and intelligence architectures,” said Fanitzi. “More importantly, it allowed us to experiment with distributed intelligence, which occurs at home station, locally with the training audience and in reach.”
Distributed intelligence helps demonstrate and communicate to ground commanders that the 504th can provide crucial intelligence suppor, while reinforcing a unit’s organic intelligence assets from thousands of miles away.
The unit accomplished many tasks it set out to achieve, some major successful strides including integrating and managing intelligence collector activities at the detention facility and processing and exploiting intelligence information.
One obstacle across any military force is the ability to communicate successfully with allies and each other. Communication is the vital glue which decides the fate of any mission.
Fanitzi said a common obstacle was overcoming technical communication issues that undoubtedly arise among geographically-separated units. To ensure its brigade and battalion Tactical Operations Centers were fully mission capable, the brigade enlisted a robust team of signal soldiers to ensure connectivity during the three-week exercise.
“Ready Phantom heavily exercised and taxed all brigade communications systems and required external communication support,” said Fanitzi. She also said the unit conducted continual communication tests to ensure the success of the exercise.
The external communication support came courtesy of Fort Hood’s 11th Signals Brigade, who assisted the 504th in overcoming the communications obstacle by providing soldiers who were equipped and ready to meet the tasks demanded for Exercise Ready Phantom.
As part of every training rotation at the National Training Center, the center provides a brigade-sized opposition force to role-play various enemy scenarios against Army units and their soldiers.
This opposition pushes the soldiers to react swiftly and make key judgements for real-time battle scenarios. The strain and vigor of the opposition force is just as vital to training as preparation and execution.
Fanitzi credited the NTC leadership, who “made our team think through and navigate complex problem sets and offer creative solutions.”
The brigade looks ahead to improve through future exercises by conducting smaller scale exercises to test intelligence architecture and conduct operations in expeditionary, reach and home station.
“We also have smaller scale (exercises) to continue to test and stretch our staff processes in preparation for a III Corps Warfighter exercise,” said Fanitzi.
Maj. Matthew Shirley, the operations officer for the 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion, explained further into processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED) operations by explaining the PED proof of concept.
“The PED Proof of Concept is an effort to establish pathways for our MI soldiers to conduct their missions in a reach capacity,”said Shirley. “Having MI soldiers in a separate location conducting their intelligence mission allows a smaller footprint for supported unit and cuts down on infrastructure requirements.”
This enables units to remain highly mobile on the battlefield while receiving critical intelligence support. The PED proof of concept continuously pushes geographical intelligence reach operations using aerial assets such as the Grey Eagle.
“Our soldiers at Fort Gordon, Ga., conducted live missions 24/7,” said Shirley. “The PED proof concept is a way to tap into a sanctuary intelligence unit to support missions forward.”
Shirley expressed some of the obstacles and success the Battalion had at its level during the exercise. Shirley said the main challenge when it came to obstacles was to ensure that timely and accurate intelligence was delivered to the unit training at the National Training Center during its force on force rotation.
Not only did the battalion’s soldier succeed in providing timely and accurate intelligence to its counterparts, but the soldiers also identified limitations of organic MI communication systems, informing leaders of the constraints and possible solutions to increase capabilities for upcoming deployments.
The brigade continues to make strides and improve its capabilities for when its expertise is needed and looks to build on its success with further training and field exercises to gain more knowledge and experience. The moniker ‘Always Ready’ sets the standard by which the brigade embodies, being ever vigilant and ready for its next mission.