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British invasion -- Officers from U.K. staff course train at BCTC
by Scott Thompson, Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2007 5:57 PM CDT
British Maj. Charlie Anderson and Maj. Paul Kremer discuss unit boundaries between British and U.S. forces as they come into the area from the east and west during an exercise at the Battle Command Training Center March 19. Students in the Intermediate Command and Staff Course (Land), the United Kingdom's version of the Command and General Staff Officers Course, are at Fort Leavenworth this week working an exercise with CGSOC students. Lamp photo by Prudence Siebert.
Two weeks ago, the Kansas countryside was teeming with British soldiers conducting reconnaissance missions.
"We used the local Kansas area and we planned to invade," said Maj. Alastair Aitken of the British Army. "We had to tell lots of the locals that the Brits were not coming again. We caused a few alarm bells when people saw lots of people in foreign uniforms on the ground."
The 224 British officers came in peace - their mission at Fort Leavenworth was one of training.
The newly promoted majors are current students from the United Kingdom Intermediate Command and Staff Course (Land), a direct equivalent to the Command and General Staff Officers Course taught at the Command and General Staff College.
They came here to work directly with their American counterparts at CGSC, to learn about military and professional similarities and differences, and to build relationships that will ultimately translate to overseas operations.
In past years, the British officers used Fort Benning, Ga., as their training ground. However, training there is intended for captains and lieutenants, not majors.
British Maj. Miki Denham updates a statistics board during "Operation Ivy Circus" at the Battle Command Training Center March 19. Students in the Intermediate Command and Staff Course (Land), the United Kingdom's version of the Command and General Staff Officers Course, are at Fort Leavenworth this week working an exercise with CGSOC students. Lamp photo by Prudence Siebert.
"To really have them work honestly with their counterparts, this is probably the best place to put it," said Lt. Col. Scott Sharp, commander of the Battle Command Training Center, which hosted the exercises.
Aitken said previous exercises at Fort Benning yielded little interaction with their U.S. counterparts, "because our U.S. counterparts are actually here at Fort Leavenworth."
In current operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Aitken said, he and other British soldiers are sitting at desks, patrolling the streets and conducting exercises alongside U.S. troops.
As a result of experiences overseas, Aitken said, it's just as important to understand one's friends as it is to understand the enemy.
"What we wanted to do was build an understanding of our firmest allies - of us understanding you and you understanding us," Aitken said, "so that when we're slightly difficult in Iraq, you can understand the cultural background that we come from. And when we don't quite understand what you're talking about in Afghanistan, as a generality, we'll have a better understanding of where you're coming from."
That rationale directs the visit and guides training. The British officers arrived March 6 and began exercises March 8. Their time here was divided into two phases.
The first part was a warfighting training exercise conducted by and involving only British soldiers. The exercises took place on the Kansas landscape.
The British soldiers were given training missions and were commanded to plan the best courses of action. One scenario had the British soldiers crossing the Missouri River.
The BCTC provided administrative and information technology support during the first phase, Aitken said. U.S. Air Force instructors from CGSC provided input and perspective for the exercise.
The warfighting exercises lasted eight days and culminated in a nine-hour formal examination that tested the students' powers of analysis and planning.
During the second phase of training, the British majors worked side-by-side with their CGSC counterparts fighting battles and carrying out plans together.
The aim was to allow the officers from both forces to interact socially and professionally.
"This is the generation who will now go into positions on the staff or command and work together on operations, so the last thing you want to do is to learn about each other during operations," Aitken said. "It's far better to do that before they even get there."
Aitken said the exercises have been beneficial to both sides. Misconceptions and language barriers were identified and dissolved.
"You never know who you're going to meet getting off the back of a C-130," said British Maj. Paul Hooker, adding that the more knowledge soldiers have about their colleagues in combat, the better.
He has noticed subtle differences in terminology that might cause confusion in the battlefield.
Hooker cited one example of a mission to "attack to destroy" by American commanders, which differs from the British understanding of "attack and destroy."
"They mean two very specific things, so we had to go back and double-check that," Hooker said. "Defeat was the word to use, but again that means something different in America, so we then had to sort of explain that. So when the Brits are talking about 'defeat,' they were meaning 'destroy.' And all of our guys needed to know that when the Americans were talking about 'destroy,' what it means to us."
The officers also found differences in how they approached operations. While the American Army relies heavily on PowerPoint presentations and detailed orders, Aitken said the British army is more apt to engage in a "back of the cigarette approach," where orders are written and handed down through a command chain.
"And unless you understand the way that that different army would approach the problem," Aitken said, "it's very difficult to come to a joint agreement. To understand where both sides are coming from makes it a lot easier to find common ground."
The BCTC provided space for exercises, support services and access to the mess hall. Sharp said the relationship makes sense for both the U.S. and British soldiers.
"The British Army fundamentally understands that they're always going to work with the U.S.," Sharp said. "So it is important, and with considerable cost, for them to spend time working with the U.S. and understanding how their U.S. counterparts operate, because in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo, they're going to be working with the U.S."
The nine-month ICSC(L) course is based in the community of Shrivenham. It works similarly to the current CGSC split-class format, with one class beginning in September and another starting in January.
Hooker said the experience has been worthwhile.
"The main thing, militarily and professionally, is learning about our respective militaries and how we work," Hooker said. "Therefore, in the future we'll all be able to work closer, quicker and better."
Today, the American and British students compete on the sports field. Students will participate in games of rugby, football, soccer, baseball and cricket. Afterward, a barbecue will bring all sides together.
British students participated in social activities while here as well. During St. Patrick's Day weekend, some attended the Leavenworth St. Patrick's Day parade, while others went skiing in Colorado, visited Chicago or attended a rodeo.
Hooker said he enjoyed his visit to the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Mo., and taking in the history of Fort Leavenworth as its role as gateway to the West.
If British brass has its way, this trip will be a biannual occurrence, with each set of ICSC(L) classes making trips to Fort Leavenworth.
Sharp said he hopes the exercise will continue at BCTC, adding that the pairing makes logical sense.
"If we don't continue to do it here, we'll have made a mistake," he said.