The Decision Room

by 2ndLts Austin Dickey, Hugo Jury, Kevin Lowring, Seamus Haggerty, and Andrew Veal

Imagine you are 1st Squad Leader, 2d Platoon, Co G, 2d Battalion, 6th Marines (2d Bn, 6th Mar). This morning, you decide to fill white-space training with a tactical decision (TDG) game in the barracks lounge over a whiteboard. After briefing the order, the attention of your Marines fades quickly as only the most outspoken fire team leaders brief their plans. At the conclusion of the TDG, most of the Marines immediately take out their phones and heatedly discuss a video game. Frustrated by their enthusiasm for a game and not their job, you realize you need to find an improved way to teach your Marines better decision-making skills through competition.

2d Bn, 6th Mar believes the “decision room” is the solution. Remodeling lounges into computer labs, decision rooms contain 16 DVTE (deployable virtual training environment) computers, tablet computers, a projector, white boards, and a large television screen. This dynamic room is designed to train decision making through interactive TDGs (ITDGs), combat decision ranges (CDRs), and virtual force-onforce gaming through Close Combat Marine (CCM).

As infantrymen, we do not spend as much time in the field as we would like. The decision room is a way to maximize our training and tactical prowess garrison. With little adjustment, DVTE computer systems that are already sourced to units throughout the Marine Corps can support a variety of software designed to test and develop the skill and will of young Marines. With the addition of ITDG, CDR, and forceon-force gaming, we can optimize the natural technical aptitudes of millennial while not requiring units to purchase additional materials.

The ITDG system is a leap forward from the traditional pen-and-paper TDG. It is a developing effort supported by the Office of Naval Research. 2d Bn, 6th Mar is fortunate to be assisting in the beta testing of many decisionmaking programs. Marines build TDGs electronically, using simple electronic overlays and any base map they import. An instructor may observe students build their schemes of maneuver, then brief the scheme of maneuver part by part, injecting enemy actions before, during, or after the student executes his plan.

ITDG layers graphics, much like an acetate overlay on a map. The instructors may digitally overlay new enemy situations as the students execute their scheme of maneuver. ITDG allows for an unlimited number of decision points reinforced by multimedia inserts into the game. For example, a video or image of a T-90 may be inserted onto the map if the student chooses to travel through an open field. The instructor may then explain the tanks actions in reaction to the field crossing.

Marines may create new enemy situations in response to the students plan, but they can also develop totally new TDGs. For example, we uploaded digital TDGs sourced from the Marine Corps Gazette into ITDG. This allows us access to hundreds of previouslymade TDGs easily distributed to students. Marines may upload their own map image, write an associated operations order, import multimedia, and then present this to their class.

To operate ITDG, the instructor must have the ITDG program on his computer, which will then act as the host computer. Student devices connect to the host via a local area or wireless network. ITDG is hosted through the Chrome browser, allowing easy access via smartphones, tablets, and computers without requiring Internet access. This is beneficial because it allows a unit to run ITDGs almost anywhere that we can bring power. For example, using a Toughpad and wireless router, a battalion staff may war game potential plans over ITDG.

It also allows the instructor to build his own scenarios from field exercises. An instructor may upload video from the Instrumented Tactical Engagement Simulation System (ITESS) location feed, UAV feed, or even audio and video from body cameras. This allows the leader to extend his lessons learned and decision making to subordinates while debriefing them in an interactive manner. This capability may also be utilized to mimic case studies of decisions made in historic battles. ITDG also provides the opportunity to conduct virtual force-on-force exercises with minimal setup.

The second program used to build recognition-primed decision making is CCM, a virtual force-on-force game. CCM contains scenarios which highlight specific infantry tactics. Each of these tactics can be tied back to Infantry Training and Readiness Manual tasks. (.NAVMC 3500 44B, Washington, DC: 2013). The instructor may focus on specific tactics critical to the mission ahead, organizing and equipping each force according to the mission. He may assign battalion-level assets, such as heavy machine guns and fixed- and rotary-wing air support, and pick the terrain based on a variety of different maps. Just as with ITDG, CCM requires the instructor to write an order or they may select one already written.

CCM IV features a system that accounts for the experience and human factors of each virtual Marine. The student must utilize sound tactics or risk his troops potentially disobeying orders. With unit tactics and the human decision of each simulated Marine, being factored into the success of the mission, this force-on-force simulator reinforces that both skill and will are required to win battles.

Virtual Battlespace (VBS III), a computer-based first person simulator, is the third program used. The program places the Marine into squad- and platoon-level force-on-force scenarios where he is forced to think tactically, make decisions, and communicate to his subordinates and adjacent units in a complex, competitive environment utilizing a range of supporting assets.

VBS III is a flexible system that promotes creativity in Marines and allows them to formulate their own scenarios that have different focus points or demonstrate different tactics. 2d Bn, 6th Mar, has integrated the above two systems to execute force-and-force exercises in a competitive manner-the Spartan Tactical Competition. During the competition, platoon commanders and squad leaders compete in a tournament against platoons from different companies. The planning process was integrated with the ITDG system prior to game play. At the end of the tournament, the platoon and squad that have demonstrated the best tactical decision-making skills in the battalion are identified. These competitions help us identify the strongest skills and leadership qualities in our Marines and are a practical, educational way to strengthen tactical decision making and morale in addition to building unit cohesion. We have already experienced leaders applying lessons learned in the decision room to force-on-force field operations in order to achieve an advantage over their opponent.

The decision room presents unlimited training possibilities for developing the Corps’ small-unit leaders. By and large, the Marine of today is more proficient than ever in gaming technologies. The Marines of 2d Bn, 6th Mar, are capitalizing on this advantage and leveraging the technology of the decision room to develop the most adept small-unit decision makers in the Corps who can innovate, adapt, and win any fight.

Author’s Note: A version of this article was published in the February Web Edition of the Marine Corps Gazette.