CPX Prepares BNDF for Peacekeeping Mission
A three-officer team from the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 137 Infantry with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa recently returned from Burundi where they worked alongside the Burundian National Defense Force in a command post exercise.
The exercise was the capstone of a U.S. Department of State-sponsored Command Staff Operations Course. The five-week course is where battalion commanders and staff learn the NATO military decision making process, according to James Cobb, U.S. State Department program country manager for Burundi. During the exercise, the BNDF used what they previously learned in a scenario similar to what they may experience during their upcoming peacekeeping mission.
“If you look back through history, staff work probably gets more soldiers killed on the battlefield than an actual engagement, (more) than poor tactics decisions,” said U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Mittman, 2-137 commander. “Poor staff work can lead large numbers of soldiers down the totally wrong path with no options. If we continue to help them refine their staff work, ideally, they’ll be able to minimize their own casualties and try to lessen the suffering on innocent populations.”
During the CPX, the BNDF battalion worked as though they were in position at their deployed location, Mittman said. They were given fragmentary orders from brigade telling them they were going to proceed as a brigade and what their role would be. With the order, they used the MDMP: analyze the situation, figure out the best course of action, “wargame” the course of action, make a final decision and execute that decision.
Though a language barrier was an obstacle during the week-long exercise, the biggest obstacle to overcome was that the BNDF staff officers and soldiers lacked the fundamental understanding that would be inherent to an American soldier at that rank, Mittman said.
“(For the CPX) we don’t have a communications director. The operations and intelligence directors were just picked from the ranks,” Mittman explained. “In our military, those people would be specifically branched and tracked that way.”
To overcome this obstacle was a slow and steady process, but the soldiers powered through it.
“You try to teach through it,” Mittman said. “Sometimes you don’t realize there is a problem until it is needed. You go through and ask questions and you find out there is a very basic piece of information missing that is causing a lot of problems. You go back and try to fix it and go on through. It’s trial and error.”
The CJTF-HOA soldiers provided a military presence that their U.S. State Department counterparts did not necessarily possess.
“All of the (U.S. State Department) instructors have a wealth of experience and are all very competent,” Mittman said. “But the fact that someone is here wearing the uniform brings some legitimacy. (It says) ‘here is real-time information straight out of the ranks of the U.S. military.’”
The U.S. military partners with the U.S. State Department in many capacities to assist in developing African armies’ skills for peacekeeping operations throughout Africa, according to Cobb.
“It helps both Americans and Africans,” Cobb said. “It gives us an opportunity to partner together and part of our exchange is we provide them with a baseline of doctrine and information that is NATO-standard and can be applied to all peacekeeping operations on the continent. It also gives (African) battalion commanders an opportunity to train their staff with our assistance.”
Mittman understands that the main purpose of his presence in Burundi wasn’t to teach the BNDF how to conduct their operations, but really to build a partnership with the force and share best practices.
“The truth is I really like doing these types of engagements,” Mittman said. “They’re inexperienced in some areas, but there is nothing I can teach them about how to fight a war. They’ll know more than I ever will about how to fight. But hopefully, if we can bring them a little bit of sophistication with regard to staff work here, it’ll lessen the casualties they are having (while deployed) and help them be more accomplished in finishing their mission.”