By Lt. Col. Jefferson Wolfe
7th Mission Support Command Public Affairs Officer
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - A small group of Army Reserve Soldiers had a large effect on Exercise Dynamic Front 18, helping to coordinate artillery fire missions between multiple countries.
Seven Soldiers from the 2500th Digital Liaison Detachment, based in Vicenza, Italy, traveled to Camp Aachen on Grafenwoehr to work with NATO's Allied Rapid Reaction Corps for the exercise.
'What a digital liaison detachment does is move in and integrate with the coalition partners' higher headquarters and provide mission command interface to seamlessly integrate coalition partners in the spectrums of field artillery, air defense, operations, logistics and intelligence,' said Col. Christopher Varhola, the 2500th DLD's commander.
The unit created a Common Operating Picture between the NATO allies and the United States by tying the two digital systems together, he said.
'Our purpose is to ensure interoperability between the NATO ARRC and U.S. units,' said Capt. Matthew McDaniel, the operations officer for the 2500th DLD.
As a communications liaison unit, the Soldiers worked closely with a number of countries, including Germany, Spain, Poland, Canada and the United Kingdom, he said.
'What we really do is take all the mission command (computer) systems, broken down by warfighting function, and we establish a digital link to ensure that there is a Common Operating Picture between U.S. units and NATO multinational allies,' McDaniel said.
NATO uses a computer system called Integrated Command and Control to provide map-based information to support the commander's decision making, while the U.S. forces use the Command Post of the Future. Because of the difference in systems, the DLD helped bridge that gap, said Warrant Officer Class 2 Adam Flatman, a Soldier from the United Kingdom who worked closely with the DLD.
'We understand limitations between our two nations' systems, but actually being able to do that on this exercise and practice what we can pass between us has been priceless, really,' he said. 'So, your guys are passing battle space geometry to us, we're passing it back the other way.'
As a CPOF operator, Sgt. Robert Corbeil had to wade through lots of information and ensure it is accurate so the artillery fire hits the correct target.
'So, that way, we won't destroy something we're not supposed to,' Corbeil said.
Having them embedded in the Combined Joint Operations Center facilitates face-to-face interaction that allows both countries to check the fidelity of the data as it passes between the two systems, Flatman said.
'I think it will be a suggestion that goes on from now on - to have them as a standing element in the CJOC,' he said.
The speed at which the 2500th DLD Soldiers can integrate into a staff is essential to its mission success, McDaniel said.
'The biggest challenge we face is trying to understand how to integrate and understand how other units do their procedures, what their Standard Operating Procedures are ... so everybody's always on the same page and that way the commander has a clear picture of what's happening on the battlefield,' he said.
In addition to providing an accurate and timely COP, the DLD also had a goal to increase its own ability to partner with other nations.
'Being able to interact with so many different types of people and understand their cultural differences really just strengthens us and makes us better leaders , more receptive to how we can integrate moving forward with other nations,' McDaniel said.
Working with other nations has been rewarding, Corbeil said. He worked with the Germans, the French the British and the Italians.
'The camaraderie we had - working with other nations, you tend to become more of a family because you are in close living quarters and you have a lot of people around you and you have to rely on the person to the left of you and the person to the right of you to make sure the information is passed down correctly,' he said.
In addition to the Soldiers in Grafenwoehr, the DLD had Soldiers working from home station in Italy during their Battle Assembly weekend, Varhola said.
'With Reserves it can sometimes be a challenge because we have limited man days - the proverbial two weeks a year and one weekend a month, so the challenge we have is to maximize our contribution as part of USAREUR with the limited days we have,' he said. 'What we did for this exercise, we sent a six-person package to be physically part of the ARRC.'
That six person forward element embedded with the ARRC, but the rest of the unit used mission command computer systems from its home station in Vicenza to plug into the exercise, Varhola said.
'So, over the course of a normal weekend, as opposed to training six people, we were able to have at total 41 people contribute and be part of a major USAREUR exercise at no extra cost to the Army,' he said.
The essence of what a DLD does is eliminate distance through the use of the mission command systems, he added.
'The distance cannot be a challenge, because that's what we're designed to overcome,' Varhola said.
The unit took part in the exercise last year, and continued to work with the NATO ARRC during the year to identify challenges and overcome them for this year's event, he said. The DLD tries to work with a diverse group of partners so the Soldiers can seamlessly integrate with the full range of allies and partners, he added.
'In a combat situation, we will not necessarily decide who we have to support,' Varhola said.
Dynamic Front 18 included about 3,700 participants from 26 nations, including the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, with staff augmentees and observers from Belgium, Bosnia Herzogovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Spain and Ukraine.
U.S. Army forces participating in the exercise include: 1st Infantry Division Mission Command Element; 19th Battlefield Coordination Detachment; Special Operations Command, Europe; 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division; 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division; 2nd Cavalry Regiment; 173rd Infantry Brigade (Airborne); 138th Field Artillery Brigade, Kentucky Army National Guard. Additional U.S. units include U.S. Air Force 4th Air Support Operations Group; 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron; 2nd Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron; 480th Fighter Squadron.