In the recently released Commandant’s Planning Guidance, the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group (MCTOG) was highlighted in the Commandant’s priorities as follows:
We will further institutionalize the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group to enhance its contribution and relevance to the training of our Ground Combat Element [GCE].1
The March 2010 edition of the Marine Corps Gazette contained the initial article in what we intend to be a series of articles regarding MCTOG. It provided a general overview of what MCTOG is and what we do. Much has changed since that article was originally written, but our general focus has remained the same. We provide individual training for key members of GCE battalion and regimental staffs and collective training in the form of SPARTAN RESOLVE exercises for those same staffs.
While both of these elements of our overall program provide value, the essential ingredient to enabling the institutionalization to which the Commandant refers is the training of those key members of GCE staffs by certifying them as operations and tactics instructors (OTIs) and disseminating them throughout the GCE. Since MCTOG’s inception during the summer of 2007, we have worked at spreading our message regarding the Operations and Tactics Training Program (OTTP) and the linchpin of that program—the OTI. It is our impression that this program is not well understood across the GCE, so this article will serve to explain how the program is designed to work and, more importantly, what the OTI brings back to his individual unit. This is especially important these days, not only because of what the Commandant said about MCTOG in his planning guidance, but also because the OTTP is a draft Marine Corps order (MCO) awaiting final approval and signature by the Commandant. The requirements laid out in the draft MCO, and explained in detail below, were agreed upon by the Ground Board and executive offsite (EOS) this past summer. What began as intent from the 34th Commandant will become a reality under the 35th.
As stated above, the linchpin of the OTTP is the OTI. These are individuals who have been trained through the Tactical MAGTF Integration Course (TMIC) and are the driving force behind the effort to increase standardization and, therefore, interoperability across the GCE. The OTTP requires every GCE unit at the regimental and battalion levels to have their operations officers and operations chiefs certified as OTIs. As such these individuals, through the TMIC, are provided advanced training focused on three areas—unit readiness program (URP) management, planning, and the execution of operations. The emphasis in these areas enables OTIs to design a unit training plan from mission analysis through deployment for combat. They can link individual and collective training standards to prepare a unit to complete its mission essential tasks. They are also capable of assessing their units as they execute designated “E” coded training and readiness events. For planning, OTIs understand the Marine Corps Planning Process (MCPP) and are capable of leading a battalion or regimental staff in integrating resources from across all of the warfighting functions, as well as the joint and interagency environment, into a coherent and executable plan. Lastly, with regard to the execution of operations, OTIs possess the technical and tactical skills to command and control a unit in combat. These OTIs are capable of running the combat operations center (COC) and training COC personnel across all MOSs to function as a team and to utilize information to synchronize combat operations.
Another element of the OTTP is that it gives these OTIs new authorities. While none of these authorities are designed to infringe on the authority of the unit commander, they exist to enable the OTI to have more impact on the unit as a whole. The first of the new authorities is the designing and validation of training plans and ensuring that they are aligned with higher headquarters’ plans and applicable MCOs. Once these plans are designed and validated, the unit commander will sign off on them. OTIs will also validate training and readiness “E” coded events for their units. They will provide an evaluation for the unit commander to make the determination as to whether their unit has trained enough in each event to be considered proficient. Next, the OTI will validate all unit data submitted in the defense readiness reporting system. The commander is still responsible for the information submitted, but the OTI will ensure its accuracy. The OTIs will also validate unit standing operating procedures (SOPs) and ensure that they are aligned with higher headquarters and applicable MCOs. As with the training plans, all will be subject to the final approval of the unit commander. Lastly, the OTI will be involved in the process of doctrine and training standards review and formulation through the submission of recommended changes as required.
The natural question one might ask concerning the OTTP and OTIs in general is “why are they needed?” There are several answers to this question. In general, it is our belief that the 34th Commandant saw a lack of standardization and uniform level of proficiency within GCE units. He saw the success that Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS–1) and MAGTF Staff Training Program have enabled for their elements of the MAGTF, but realized there was no equivalent for the GCE or logistics combat element. He wanted an organization established for the GCE that would enable better preparation for and performance in combat. The need for such an organization was made imperative by the increasing complexity of the current operating environment, as well as the command and control systems units are required to master when conducting operations. A brief look at what we as a Corps have been doing over the past 2 years since White Letter 04–08 (establishing MCTOG) was published more than makes the case for the OTTP—scaling down operations in Iraq while ramping up operations in Afghanistan; disaster relief in Pakistan and Haiti; engaging Somali pirates and rescuing American merchant crewman; ENDURING FREEDOM operations in the Philippines; theater security cooperation engagement in South America, Africa, and Central Asia; and all of this in the face of significant personnel turnover within units between one deployment and the next. The current operating environment requires thoroughly trained and cohesive units, prepared to respond to whatever they encounter and, most difficult of all, able to transition from one type of operation to another on very short notice. The tactical and operational agility required of GCE units by the conditions described above does not uniformly exist. The OTTP is striving to gain that uniformity—to get every unit to the same general level of proficiency, allowing commanders the flexibility to take it to the next level because they no longer have to struggle to get to a basic level of proficiency as they prepare their units for combat. It is not that every unit should be doing things exactly the same. It is more the case that members of the GCE should be able to go from unit to unit and generally recognize operating procedures, COC layouts, and command and control functions. This standardization provides for more seamless integration and a staff rapidly becoming more effective.
Given the recent emphasis on OTIs, there has been a tendency to confuse them with the skills and abilities of weapons and tactics instructors (WTIs) produced by MAWTS–1. While there are some similarities, especially since MCTOG was established along the same general lines as MAWTS–1, there are a number of significant differences. The most significant is the impact on collective training vice individual skills. In addition to strong planning skills, one of the key capabilities WTIs provide their squadrons is the ability to conduct complex tactical training for advanced instructor qualifications and flight leadership designations. WTIs are trainers who are integral to a detailed certification process for squadron members, which forms the basis for squadron mission readiness. Squadron members must have crews with specific skills and required currency in order for the unit to be considered mission ready. OTIs are operators distinctly focused on collective skills. OTIs directly assist the commander in evaluating, assessing, and certifying his units by ensuring they are prepared to deploy and operate in the contemporary environment. They do this by setting up and aligning collective training events for the unit that focus on refining and evaluating the numerous processes associated with tactical decisionmaking for the GCE unit. Familiar with MCPP, OTIs also drive the planning process. Additionally, they are trained on exercising command and control of their units through the COC and are taught how to leverage available resources to train their COC. While WTIs are integral to squadron members’ individual progression through their respective training and readiness requirements, OTIs are integral to the progressive training plan that focuses on collective training for the unit as a whole. Lastly, WTIs are actual table of organization line numbers in squadrons, while OTIs are tied to the billets of the operations officer and operations chief. Where they are similar is that they are both trained to be agents of standardization; both are trained to train others, execute planning, and conduct operations; both are educated on the accessibility and use of the host of enablers necessary to the current fight; and both are key unit members who achieve overall unit proficiency and combat readiness.
Next, it would be valuable to look at how OTIs are trained. When MCTOG was originally established, it planned for and conducted a 6-week course originally called the Operations and Tactics Instructor Course (OTIC), with the beta version being run in the spring of 2008. The course name was directed to be changed to TMIC in 2009. The course is designed to present a significant amount of academics mostly oriented on ensuring a general level of knowledge among the students to enable them to conduct the detailed planning and execution of a classified, hybrid threat scenario in simulation. Students are broken down into regiment and battalion teams, and their COCs are enhanced by the presence of embedded students and subject matter expert (SME) augmentees so that they are operating with fully fleshed out COCs. These embedded students and SME augmentees are sourced from across the GCE, and while they are not certified as OTIs, they are not training aids either. All of them receive training and become more proficient in their MOS skills through their participation in the planning and execution of the final exercise scenario as integral members of the COC. This participation also significantly assists the OTI’s understanding of the roles of each member of the COC and how they can be best utilized. This is one of the strengths of the course. Most other courses running a command post exercise have students who are all of the same grade and ability, but they have very few SMEs. The TMIC COCs are very close to having everyone normally encountered in an Operating Forces COC. This forces the operations officer and operations chief to orchestrate their combined efforts in a school environment before having to do it for real at their home unit. In addition to the academics, planning, and execution in simulation, there is a detailed fire support coordination exercise and a training package on the URP. Combined, these events enable the OTI to be the training, planning, and execution SME described above.
Through the OTIC beta course and the several TMICs that followed, it became evident that the designated target audience—those either in or going into the operations officer and operations chief billets—was not able to attend the course in the numbers necessary to start having a GCE-wide impact. Much of this has been due to the current operating tempo to support deployments to Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, but some is also due to manpower assignment issues in that personnel are arriving later in the predeployment training program (PTP) process, and their units cannot spare them for 6 weeks. Mainly inspector-instructors, Reserve officers and SNCOs, instructors from the Supporting Establishment, and members of MCTOG’s staff to facilitate instructor development have attended the TMIC. There has been a smattering of Operating Forces personnel, but nowhere near enough. In addition, the course was originally intended to include gunners and fire support coordinators, but it was determined in 2009 that there was not enough pertinent training for those two groups to justify them being away from their units for 6 weeks. The branch plans for both of these topics will be discussed later in this article.
Returning to the throughput issue, it was decided in 2009 that the GCE MOS Expeditionary Warfare School (EWS) students would run through a shortened version of the TMIC during the Occupational Field Expansion Course (OFEC) portion of their curriculum. The academics—received as a normal part of their EWS instruction—was close enough to enable them to come to MCTOG during 3 weeks of their OFEC and strictly focus on the planning and execution portions of the course. Planning was conducted in the fall of 2009, and the first iteration of the EWS TMIC was conducted in February 2010. The course went well, and it certainly increased the throughput numbers for OTIs, but the majority of these OTIs did not go into operations officer billets and likely will not do so for another year or so. In an attempt to enable Operating Forces personnel to attend and be certified as OTIs, a modular TMIC concept was developed in early 2010, but no one could articulate how long it would take to certify an OTI because it would have been mostly self-paced. Due to this shortfall, guidance was received that turned us back to the drawing board. It was determined that because of the current operating tempo and personnel turnover, the ideal course length needed to be set at 3 weeks
During the summer of 2010, the Commanding General (CG), Training and Education Command (TECom), the Ground Board, and the EOS all approved the development and implementation of the 3-week TMIC, with the understanding that it will eventually return to the 6-week version as we draw down from Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. The new 3-week course would have several prerequisites though. Operations officers will need to have completed EWS, either resident or nonresident. Operations chiefs need to have completed the Infantry Operation Chief Course (IOCC). In addition, much of the academics portion was moved to the Blackboard distance-learning program used by the College of Distance Education and Training for the EWS and Command and Staff College nonresident seminar programs. This is a program allowing students to participate in the course asynchronously and does not tie down instructors by requiring them to be available online at designated times. The students read through the instructional material and then take a quiz and participate in a blog-type discussion forum led by the instructor. The first iteration of this new 3-week TMIC was run from 18 October to 5 November 2010, with the distance-learning course work going from 15 September to 15 October. Due to the relatively short notice of setting up and running this first iteration, there were only eight courses in the distance-learning portion, each taking about 45 minutes to 1 hour to complete. The next TMIC will most likely have approximately 18 courses, with each being available year round with the intent of giving prospective students more time to complete them. As was anticipated, this shorter TMIC attracted more students from the target audience. We did not reach our total student capacity of 41 officer and 37 SNCO OTI positions (we hit 38 percent of capacity), but there was a significant increase in OTI students from the Operating Forces. As the information regarding this course reaches a wider audience, combined with the signing of the OTTP formalizing the requirement for OTI certification, the percentage of the class filled by the target audience will continue to rise.
Yet another initiative linked to the TMIC is the IOCC. The course was developed and implemented for the first several years by School of Infantry East at Camp Geiger. It offered a very solid, basic grounding for operations chiefs to enable them to understand their role in the S–3 section (operations) and the COC, but was unable to provide them advanced training and integrate them into a fully functioning COC. In a sense, their education was incomplete until they could participate in a TMIC. With the drafting and eventual approval of the OTTP, all operations chiefs will be required to become OTIs and attend the TMIC, so the merging of these two courses (IOCC and TMIC) began to make a great deal of sense. An operational planning team was held in October 2010 that laid out the requirements for operations chiefs in the current operating environment. The team then looked at the existing IOCC and TMIC curriculums to see if they met the need. It was decided that the two courses could be combined to run in sequence. The IOCC would be shortened from 6 weeks to 4 weeks, with the course running up against the start of a TMIC. IOCC students would finish the modified IOCC, then roll straight into the 3-week TMIC to complete the OTI requirement. The combined courses would be referred to as the Ground Operations Chief Course (GOCC) to reflect that it was not only for infantry operations chiefs but all operations chiefs across the GCE. The entire course will be conducted at MCTOG, and the first iteration as a proof of concept of the GOCC will run from 22 February to 9 April.
As mentioned earlier, two other groups were originally identified as needing to participate in the TMIC—gunners and fire support coordinators. With regard to gunners, a detailed look was taken at what gunners needed for advanced training beyond what they get at the Infantry Weapons Officer Course, which is focused on preparing them for their first gunner tour. Beyond their first tour, no formal training venue exists, but they are required to operate at higher level staffs, get involved in the acquisition process, mentor junior gunners and, in some cases, run training courses themselves. We looked at what the TMIC was providing for OTIs and determined that this training did not meet the advanced needs for gunners. In the spring of 2010 we developed an Advanced Gunner’s Course and forwarded it for review and approval. It was determined by the 2010 Gunner’s Symposium, and agreed to by the Ground Board, that the proposal was not adequate, so a detailed learning analysis is being conducted at TECom to define what exactly gunners need for advanced training, and a suitable course will be developed after the need is defined.
Fire support coordinators are different. CG, Marine Corps Combat Development Command directed TECom to identify a means of certifying firs support coordinators in the skills that enable them to perform their function within a COC. The logical follow-on is that MCTOG will be the organization to provide the necessary certification and the TMIC will be the venue. Planning is currently underway to identify what the certification needs to entail, then adjustments will need to be made to the TMIC to ensure that it adequately trains firs support coordinators and provides a meaningful certification. Ideally OTIs will all get this certification, but that could mean adding another week to the TMIC. If the OTI and firs support coordinator are developed along separate tracks, but come together for planning and execution, then are certified separately, the course can remain 3 weeks long. Either way, both MCTOG and the fires community will determine the best course to achieve this long overdue requirement.
In this article, I have attempted to explain what exactly OTIs are and how they are trained. It would be good to now take a look at how a commander can best employ them upon their return from the TMIC. Whereas before, operations officers and operations chiefs had to learn all of the aspects of their job as they went along, OTIs are now returning with the knowledge that should enable them to be a great deal more proficient. Commander’s now have an integrated team that understands the URP and can properly develop and implement the training necessary to get their unit prepared for combat. This should enable GCE units to move away from the PTP checklist mentality that has allowed our training management skills to atrophy. The understanding of the MCPP will enable OTIs to drive the planning process in a high operating tempo and shape events vice just reacting to them. The understanding of the complex command and control systems, as well as the plethora of joint and interagency enablers currently encountered will allow OTIs to integrate all of these systems and enablers to increase operational efficiency.
Arguably, many operations officers and operations chiefs have some or all of these skills already, but they had to learn them as they performed their jobs and few came into their jobs fully prepared to operate as required. The training OTIs receive will enable them to do this as long as they go at the ideal time—just prior to or upon assuming duty as an operations officer or operations chief. An additional benefit of their certification as an OTI is that they will remain tied to MCTOG so they can reach back to all of the classes and be able to present them to their own units. They will also be tied into the network for MCTOG’s Tactical Lessons Integration Program, which seeks to take lessons observed from the Operating Forces and ensure that they become lessons actually learned through being tied back into training, SOPs, and doctrine. The operations officer and operations chief OTIs, due to the skills they have acquired during the TMIC, will be a tremendously valuable resource for the battalion and regiment. Instead of having to learn their job on the fly as they have in the past, they will now be better prepared to “hit the ground running” than they ever have been before. Giving people the tools to do their jobs is a much better approach than throwing them into the deep end and letting them sink or swim on their own initiative and ability. We as a Corps can be better than that, and the OTTP is the program that can ensure that we are.
1. Amos, Gen James F., 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps Commandant’s Planning Guidance 2010, Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, DC, p. 9.