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By Maj. Carla Raisler, 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - The 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade worked alongside multiple active duty and National Guard units at the XVIII Airborne Corps (ABC) Warfighter Exercise (WFX) 21-1, conducted Oct. 1-15, at Fort Bragg, N.C.
The 149th MEB is a self-contained, modular, and multifunctional support brigade customized to meet many of the Guard's various demands.
For WFX 21-1, the 149th MEB provided manning and expertise to the support area command post and improved mission command. Kentucky Guardsmen supported brigade combat teams, conducted tactical-level tasks, and handled area support operations in a large-scale combat operations training scenario.
Maneuver Enhancement Brigades are unique and only found in the National Guard and Reserve components. Warfighter exercises provide MEBs the opportunity to train their unique and diverse staffs by integrating with their active duty counterparts.
"The MEB's expertise across the branches makes it special when compared to other Brigade Combat Teams," said 149th MEB commander Col. Kent Cavallini. "The MEB brings the full planning capability required to perform many missions in the support area and enables the division or corps to conduct large-scale combat operations."
The military decision-making process results for WFX 21-1 took the brigade staff over a year to develop. The tasks included responding to multiple changes because of the unprecedented global pandemic. This directly affected the exercise’s planning and execution phases.
"As the COVID-19 pandemic grew, we changed our planning methods to a more distributed experience," said the 149th MEB executive officer, Maj. Brandon Davisson. "We used multiple means of communications to continue our planning efforts. Using Microsoft Teams permitted the distribution of planning conferences and documents, and added a shared level of understanding among the planners before arriving at the warfighter. Regardless of the friction that presented itself during planning, we adapted and overcame the issues. We arrived prepared to support the XVIII ABC."
In today's digital world, mission command's success relies heavily on mission command information systems to build a good common operating picture (COP). Commanders use this COP to visualize their battlespace, enhance their command and control over friendly assets, and to anticipate adversarial movements.
Once the 149th MEB arrived at Fort Bragg, Soldiers set up battle stations for the brigade staff.
Signal support specialists, like Sgt. Joy Himmelsbach with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, are often the unseen and unheard heroes of these events. Himmelsbach arrived onsite early with a truckload of mission command systems and supporting electronic equipment. Her mission's first 48 hours comprised heavy lifting, keyboard time, and very little sleep. Overall, she coordinated with corps-level support and prepared the brigade's staff systems to integrate with the exercise network.
However, the biggest challenge was learning, installing, and training the other Soldiers on the new Command Post Computing Environment (CPCE). The Army has used the Command Post of the Future (CPOF) program primarily since its debut in 2004, so no Soldiers in the 149th MEB trained on the CPCE before this warfighter.
"Preparing for a mission always comes with its challenges. But with the help of the 149th MEB staff, and the staff from the XVIII ABC, we solved our issues," said Himmelsbach. "We were using the CPCE system for the first time. With a little hands-on learning, patience, and help from the [civilian] contractors, it surprised me to see we contributed to the mission more effectively than we had previously on the CPOF systems."
The execution phase requires the skill sets of a diverse and seasoned staff of both officers and high-ranking non-commissioned officers. They need to come from various military specialties, such as military police, infantry, signal, military intelligence, chemical, and aviation. This exercise capitalized on that diversity and allowed them to crosstalk with peers across the active duty and Army Reserve spectrum. The 149th MEB gained a valuable perspective on how to best support the fight.
"A warfighter exercise provides the brigade with the opportunity to develop as a brigade staff, improve on our warfighting functions, and practice on the new command systems used to track the battlespace," said 149th MEB Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Owens.
“The Soldiers and leaders of this Brigade always impress, and it was no different at WFX 21-1,” Owens continued. “We were honored to work directly with the XVIII ABC as their MEB in the Corps Support Area.”
"Our brigade has been training for this event since October 2019, and the hard work and training showed. We have the most capable Soldiers, not only in the Kentucky Army National Guard, but across the Army. Their professionalism, knowledge, and work ethic enables this brigade to perform at the high level we know it for, no matter the mission."
As the Army sharpens its capabilities in multi-domain operations, the MEB will continue to provide unity in command and protection as needed to fight and win America's wars. While tactical systems and technology are enablers that allow the warfighters to visualize the battle, it takes the diverse skills of the people involved in the fight to digest, consider, and act on the information.
People are the Army's most valuable asset, and the 149th MEB understands and values all members of its team.