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Distributed Ground Station - Mass. : Leading the way

OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- They say that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The ramifications are especially serious when it comes to the functioning team members in a kill chain. 

From command and control, to intelligence teams, to the war fighter on the ground, these series of links work together to complete missions that keep enemy threats in check. 

But what if those links don't speak the same language, work in the same military branch, or understand each other's capabilities and toolsets? Then the wartime mission to find, fix, track and target enemy forces, assist in engagements and perform damage assessment becomes seriously compromised. That's where DGS-MA's Ground Subject Matter Expert Training Program is making a difference in the kill chain. 

Airmen from the 102nd Intelligence Group are a critical part of the overall Air Force Distributed Common Ground Station weapon system. All DGS-MA crew members have gone through rigorous training at various DGS locations; assessed by standardization and evaluation processes to attain and maintain mission crew qualifications. However, even after all this training there is still a noticeable barrier between the Air Force and its interpretation of characteristics for its main customers: U.S. and Coalition land forces. This is where DGS-MA is breaking new ground toward better integration. 

Personnel from DGS-MA are working on a curriculum called the Ground Subject Matter Expert (SME) Program. The purpose of this program is to educate DGS-MA crew members on U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and Coalition Ground Forces. The training consists of clear, concise lessons on land-based forces organization, structure, command and control, doctrine, and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). 

Trainers from the 102nd IG have been working with the Army National Guard located at Camp Edwards. Camp Edwards is home to the Training Support Center (TSC) which is responsible for facilitating all training exercises for Army units for proficiency and prior to deployment. 

The team at the TSC prepares soldiers by providing training and maintaining facilities at the Tactical Training Base (TTB Kelley), Military Operation in Urban Terrain site (MOUT Calero), and the state of the art Virtual Convoy Operations Trainer (VCOT). The most recent collaboration effort centered on bringing Airmen up to speed in a convoy operational setting using the VCOT. 

Utilizing a series of virtual reality headsets and full motion turrets, the VCOT puts participants into the setting that most convoy operators experience while on patrol. Teams consist of a group of vehicles made up of vehicle commanders, drivers, and gunners. The simulators respond to input commands that simulate steering and velocity commands from the driver. The gunner actually sits in a moving turret that responds to the operator's decision on where to scan and acquire targets. The vehicle commander receives and issues communications back to the simulator operator which builds what happens next in the scenario. 

"Your mind was really fooled because of what you were seeing and feeling," said Airman 1st Class John Emery, 101st Intelligence Squadron. "It's recommended to take motion sickness meds," he chuckled. 

"The training was really valuable because it helps us as 1N1s (imagery analysts) understand what we'll be looking at through their [the convoy members'] eyes," said Airman 1st Class Adrienne Harvey, 101st Intelligence Squadron. 

This understanding can be crucial when actual missions are running and every second counts in analyzing a situation. 

"Instead of looking at what's going on and wondering 'Why are they doing that?', we'll understand why they're doing it," said Airman 1st Class Derek Lafontaine, 101st Intelligence Squadron. "We will know what they're doing, not what we think they're doing."
This joint collaboration has already seen many rewards. Soldiers are gaining exposure to the capabilities of Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (AFISR) tools and their impact on the fight; while Airmen are getting a chance to observe, participate, and discuss with Soldiers about Army doctrine and TTPs. This type of experience and cooperation typically does not happen until each branch of service is in a deployed environment. At that point, there is little room for gaining Situational Awareness (SA) of each service's capabilities. This SA is equally important to the Soldier/Airman, as it is to each and every commander. 

While the training is thorough, it is not easy. Each team runs through scenarios but is not always successful. That's where the real learning occurs. 

"The Army was great because they put it all in perspective," said Airman Harvey. "They would tell us where we went wrong, what we should have done, what the normal convoy trainer is going to do in that situation, then we got to try it again." 

Simple errors, such as using the wrong communications terminology, can have serious consequences. 

"One of the hardest things was being able to use the 'comms.' There's a big difference between 'Repeat' and 'Say again,'" remembered Airman Harvey. 'Repeat' tells an Army artillery squad to hit their prior target again while 'say again' means 'I didn't understand what you said, please retransmit.' 

"There were a lot of things getting blown up before we figured that out," said Airman Emery. 

Both the Army and Air National Guard believe this training to be invaluable. 

"It is great to see both services train like we fight," said Army Sgt. John Slager, Camp Edwards training sergeant. 

Airman Lafontaine summed it up saying, "I like the idea that as intel folks, we can think with them and get the information they need to them ahead of time. The more we know, the more we can help them and that's what it's all about." 

As the program grows and builds on its successes, the U.S. Marine Corps and Coalition elements of the program will need to be completed. If you have any experience in these areas, please contact Master Sgt. Curtis Pierson, 101st Intelligence Squadron, at 508-968-4275 or Curtis.pierson@ang.af.mil for more information.