Monday, October 5, 2015

AAR sand table exercise 8th NC PATCON III

Saturday (3 OCT 2015) at the NC PATCON I was invited to participate in the sandtable CPX. The basic scenario was that a base defense operation took in a young female refugee, who reported that two adolescent females were being held hostage in a nearby house by criminals. Our mission was to mount a rescue, to be planned in real-time, at night. I was given the task of operations chief, working for an operations officer (S-3)/second-in-charge (2IC), with the team as a whole under the command of the CO/first-in-charge (1IC). Other team members included a medical detachment leader, and a recon leader. CA also played the role of one of the two platoon leaders available in the exercise. Our goal was to dispatch a recon unit, and then execute the planning phase for this operation through the briefing of the assault team.

The exercise was conducted in a suitably makeshift tactical operations center (TOC), using prepared intelligence materials (a map and some Google photos prepared by the exercise coordinator (Grenadier1). All other materials were makeshift, and lighting was realistically poor. Communication among the various elements was via handheld radios, which added to the realism, and introduced unexpected uncertainty, as noted later.

First, I will describe the baggage I brought to the exercise, the adjustments I had to make to my previous experiences, and things I overlooked or could have done better.


  1. Observations from a guy that wasn't there and has no military experience. Meant to be constructive:

    My impression from reading your remarks is that the mission was over complicated and you relied to much on "how it was done in the Corps (or the Army for that matter)". When the flag goes up no one is going to have the manpower and resources of the United States Marine Corps, of which I am a huge fan by the way.
    Just from reading, it seems to me the operation should have been carried out more in the way a seal team would have done it. I may be completely wrong and will freely admit that, it is just my impression.

    Now to something I do have experience with. You spoke of the problems with having women in the group. In the 80's I crewed on a number of racing sail boats. These were recreational racers, not paid professionals but that did not stop us from performing at a high level. There were women on all of the crews. The boats were generally in the 25 to 35 foot range. During a race there was no such thing as going below to use the potty. Some of the boats did not even have one. In every day life most of these folks were professionals (teachers, lawyers, doctors, business owners and in my case construction workers). Most of us in every day life were used to decorum and the rules of society but on the boat, when it came to bodily functions we did what we had to do. The races were often hours long. Some were over night. Some lasted as much as 18 hours. When nature called the men went to the stern of the boat and let it hang over the rail. We all cracked corny jokes like "how cold is the water?". The women obviously had a greater problem but they simply squatted over the rail. We joke them too but no one looked at either the men or the women. If by chance someone had to do more than pee the solution was a 5 gallon plastic bucket with some sea water in it and a quick trip down into the cabin. The contents were
    then dispatched off the stern. (this is by the way Coast Guard compliant even though pumping a head overboard is not). By the way, if you've never raced on a sailboat and think it's just a slow drift on the water and not applicable you don't have a clue. It is one of the most intense activities I've ever been involved in and often becomes a life or death situation if someone doesn't do what you are suppose to do at the right time. No it's not the same as taking fire but it is a all consuming exercise in controlled chaos.

    My point is that professional people can deal with these issues without issue and if there are those in your group, either men or women that can't they should be reassigned. I'll go so far as to say that applies to the command issues as well. I agree that in our society men are primarily in the lead but competence should control who leads and not egos. If I were in an operation where a woman clearly had a better command of the issues and procedures I would follow her direction just like I would a man and gender would never cross my mind.

    Next time you do one of these exercises it may be good to announce that this is a real life simulation and designate a latrine area. Maybe a 5 gallon bucket in the corner of the tent with some sort of obstruction in front of it.


  2. Thanks, I was impressed by the exercise, but don't have time to comment being on the road.

    1. Re-reading the article and my response I now realize what I didn't clearly state
      in my first comment. What I was trying to constructively criticize was NOT the operation you carried out. I was reacting to the expectations of the writer that seemed to be frustrated that it did not have military precision. What you folks were dealing with is probably a lot closer to real world than any well planned military operation will ever be in any place other than an actual war zone. Going back to the issues related to women in the group, I recently
      re-read James Wesley Rawles book "Patriots" after having last read it about 7 years ago. One thing i didn't pick up on the first time or maybe had forgotten is how much trust and dependence the books characters put in the women in the group. It's not something our society is used to as our men
      tend to protect our women as much as possible but I think Rawles rightly realized the necessity of using all the assets available including the fairer sex.

      I wish I could have been there to participate. Also, it sounds like you had one heck of a Constitution program. I sure hope someone will post details of that. CH

    2. The Constitution "debate" between the three needs to be strictly enforced according to rules/decorum next time. 5 minutes a piece, with no butting in or face grimaces, etcetera. Film was made and will be posted when ready. Thanks.

    3. Hi CH,

      (this reply might go to the wrong place, but it will make sense from context.)

      No frustration at all. I thought it was an awesome exercise! I thoroughly enjoyed it and think it should be done more often. When I wrote "adapt", I was meaning adapting my experience to the situation, not the other way around. That is why I called it baggage :-)


    4. I agree with the more often part. I need all the learning I can get!

    5. I need your email address as Tony Barley asked me to send you something. Thanks.

    6. Tom, my purpose in commenting was to further understand what went on in he exercise. I think we've accomplished that. You are correct. You did criticize your military habits and say you needed to adapt. I just wish I could have been there to join in. CH

    7. sounds like you had one heck of a Constitution program. I sure hope someone will post details of that. CH

      Film was made and will be posted when ready. BT


      Upon further thought, I will not be posting the videos on my site as I would consider the lack of decorum embarrassing. They will be posted elsewhere, though. Thanks.

      Brock TownsendOctober 5, 2015 at 9:03 PM
      The Constitution "debate" between the three needs to be strictly enforced according to rules/decorum next time. 5 minutes a piece, with no butting in or face grimaces, etcetera. Film was made and will be posted when ready.

  3. The exercise was not meant to simulate the dynamic portion of the operation. It was meant to simulate the planning and information gathering of the operation. Just to let you know, that is a complex process. These participants were operating with as short a staff as you could really expect. It was basically 4 people, they were planning a hostage rescue mission on the fly with much less than what the SEALs would operate with.
    I cant say that it was perfect and I cant say their plan would have been a complete success but honestly their actual plan was not what was being tested here, it was how to come up with the plan in the first place.


    1. Considering it was done in a tent with lanterns by people who never worked together, I'd say it went well.

    2. Ahh, that makes sense. I didn't mean my comments to be overly critical. I was just responding to the self critique. CH

  4. Commenter has it backwards. Everyone present regardless of background or experience pitched in collaboratively towards the goal without need of correction. It was quite cool.

  5. I write this as both relatively new to the community and as a civilian. I will vary a little in my observation based on that.

    1. Our situation was we were a neighborhood protection team whose outpost had been contacted by a child. The child said her parents had been killed and her sisters were captured by bad guys. I am bad with names and job titles so forgive my description of things. I have various elements to work with but throughout, there was my planner and comms radio guy( again I apologize for the descriptions).

    2. I feel that the confusion and un readiness of the exercise was ok. More than ok, realistic. We were a NPT protecting our families and friends while trying to do right for these children in harms way. In a group trying to stay safe after some catastrophe or event, no one is perfect or trained as they would like to be. Everyone fell back on prior experience or training, which I have none ( by the way, i was volunteered as 1st in charge). We had maps, satellite pics of the neighborhood, lanterns and a few radios.

    In an average group trying to stay alive that's about all you can ask for.
    When making decisions what ran through my mind the whole time is, these are my
    friends and neighbors, my people.

    3. My takeaway was this, I need more skills ( map reading,etc), and I need to keep an open fluid mind in deciding and planning. We were relatively new to each other and we all came from different backgrounds which in itself would be a pretty realistic background. We all did a fantastic job of adapting to each other while still progressing in the exercise. Therefore in my mind it was as realistic as it could be. Despite our training or background, a neighborhood protection team is a group of people trying to stay safe through adversity.

    These exercises NEED to be done more often. Does anyone in Upstate SC and Western NC want to try this type of thing?