Sgt. Javier Amador
3rd Brigade Combat Team Journalist
FORWARD OPERATING BASE LIGHTNING, Afghanistan – It was late afternoon Feb. 11 when the warning system started blaring, alerting personnel to incoming fire. As Soldiers and civilians donned their protective gear and scrambled to their shelters, the Spartan Brigade’s Tactical Operations Center was furiously at work. Soldiers at different stations began sending their information to the battle captain, who absorbed the overwhelming wave of data and confidently decided the best course of action.
TOCs are the nerve centers of units at the battalion and higher echelons of a deployed U.S. Army organization. There, information is gathered from a wide array of sources at every level, from the Soldier on the ground to the command group at the top.
At the center of the action within each TOC are the battle captains. After receiving all of the information during an incident, they must be able to act decisively by either quickly recommending a course of action to their leadership, or in their absence, deciding a course of action themselves to deal with the contingency.
“My job is to keep track of each of the brigade’s movements,” said Capt. Darnell Badger, assistant operations officer and day shift battle captain with 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
“You’ve got different units going out on missions such as cargo convoys, route clearance missions to ensure the roads are clear of improvised explosive devices, as well as Afghan National Security Forces missions,” he explained. “And sometimes different units will go out to support the Afghan National Army, moving behind them to ensure they are being tactically sound or to provide support by fire.”
Information pours into the TOC from all over the battlefield. From the commanders and Soldiers on the ground to the higher echelons of command. Everything is pro- cessed by specialized Soldiers working at their stations, who are subject-matter experts in their fields. They process their part of the fight and give the battle captain their specialized recommendations, which are then worked into the complex equation the battle captains solve routinely.
One of the sections is the air defense and airspace management and brigade aviation element coordinator, advising the battle captain on the movement and avail- ability of aircraft.
“My job supports the battle captain by keeping him aware of the movements of aircraft, especially if they are carrying important people, as well as the availability and provision of assets such as Apache or UH-60 helicopters in any sort of situation,” said Spc. Jeffrey Miller, an air defense and airspace management and brigade aviation element coordinator for Spartan Brigade.
Although his military occupation is Air Defense Battle Management System operator, Miller quickly acquired the new skills he needed for the position he holds now, which has him doing the work of both his specialty and an aviation operations specialist.
“Being an air defense specialist, the hardest part was learning everything about the aviation side,” Miller said. “I pretty much had to learn a whole new world.”
As one can imagine, the climate inside the TOC will vary along with the conditions on the battlefield. At times, the action can be frenetic, making for an anxious atmosphere.
“The most stressful part of the job is eliminating targets,” Badger said. “Because you have to stay abreast of the situation, especially when the brigade leadership has to be briefed, you have to be very detailed. They don’t have much time to make a decision.”
For 1st Lt. Donald Bolz, battle captain for 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, the hardest part of his job comes from tracking the movements of his Afghan counterparts as they go through their missions.
“The most stressful parts of the job for me are tracking the ANSF as they go through their missions, because they sometimes have a hard time giving me an accurate location, although it has gotten better now that most of them have global positioning satellite devices, and helping them clarify situations in order to let them know when to take immediate action and when to allow a situation to develop in order to get more information,” Bolz said.
The heightened tensions and controlled chaos typical of a TOC in the middle of multiple contingencies can place a great deal of stress on the Soldiers who work there, but ironically, it is that very climate the battle captains and the Soldiers on their teams can also find the most personally rewarding.
“For me, it’s about being on the cutting edge, being able to get help were it is needed the most,” said Bolz, “seeing the importance of your job, especially when the mission’s outcome is seeing the troops coming back inside the wire safely.”
For other Soldiers, it is the excitement that comes with being able to make a real and visible difference to the troops on the ground.
“What I like the most about working in the TOC is the energy, the excitement that comes with what happens in there,” Miller said. “Whether it’s troops coming into contact or indirect fire coming down on a forward operating base, it’s having the opportunity to provide the assets the battle captains require to help those units that need them the most.”
The battle captain position may bring with it some steep challenges, but the officers who fill those shoes and face those challenges on a daily basis can rest assured that a competent team of experts will be behind them to lend their skills in their effort to solve the problems together.
“I’m definitely not the smartest guy in the brigade, maybe even in the TOC,” Badger said. “But you have to know where to go to get the job done and the support that I’ve been getting from people like Capt. Justin Messenger and Sgt. Anthony Wieger helped me to be an effective battle captain.”