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Badgers Claw Away at Deadly Dangers

June 2011
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Magazine
E-mail About the Author

 

A soldier from Company B, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, provides security during a dismounted patrol demonstration as part of a "Lifecycle of an IED" lesson, which was presented to more than 60 U.S. and multinational representatives during the Badger Team’s Coalition Counter-IED Training Conference. The Badger Team, established under the Joint Multinational Training Command, is providing counter-improvised explosive device (C-IED) training to multinational partners to save lives and to reduce the number of U.S. troops on the battlefield.

A Europe-based U.S. Army team imparts homogeneous training to multinational partners who will face homemade bombs in the field.

Coalition forces have a new resource in the battle against improvised explosive devices, and it should enhance efforts well into the future. This training initiative offers both immediate skills for the war in Afghanistan as well as train-the-trainer options for participants to bring back to their home countries. Success will mean fewer deaths and injuries for all warfighters, but the work also has another goal—to prepare foreign troops to take more active roles in conflict, thereby reducing the number of U.S. service members who have to fight on the front lines.

Known as the Badger Team, the effort began as a way to consolidate tactics, techniques and procedures and emerging changes to processes—not only with U.S. soldiers coming through, but with multinational partners, explains Lt. Col. Michael Oliver, USA, Badger Team senior counter-improvised explosive device (C-IED) trainer. Badger Team is unique, providing training for any coalition forces in the various facets of C-IED work in the theater. It falls under the 7th U.S. Army Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC), part of U.S. European Command (EUCOM), and most of its training is carried out at Hohenfels Training Area in Germany.

The goal of the training is two-fold. For one, it consolidates emerging trends from everyone involved in the fight. Second, Badger Team offers nations a chance to send their own trainers to catch up on the latest IED trends so that over time these countries have the capacity to conduct their own training for their forces.

Col. Oliver sums up the team’s efforts: “The purpose of the team is to train and build capacity for our partners so they’re more capable of participating. And because they’re participating, it means fewer U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. To us, that’s a big deal.” The colonel illustrates his point using Romania as an example. Through years of engagement between that country and the United States, Romania has sent hundreds more of its troops to Afghanistan. Though the entire increase is not related directly to Badger Team efforts, the principle is the same. Romanians now conduct more internal training, increasing their commitment to the International Security Assistance Force.

Other countries moving toward conducting their own C-IED training include Slovenia, which Col. Oliver says “should be pretty close,” as well as Georgia and Slovakia. Several additional nations also have made commitments to pursuing internal training. The colonel explains that standardized preparation among coalition partners improves missions in theater because allies understand one another’s capabilities. This reduces the amount of time it takes to integrate disparate units into larger formations.

Everyone who goes through the training, regardless of uniform, receives the same quality of lesson. Afterward, they can return home and give their own forces the equivalent education because the allies all face the same threats. “In the end, that IED doesn’t care if it’s an American or one of our partner nations out there. It’s going to kill them just as dead,” Col. Oliver says.

In addition to U.S. service members, troops from Poland, Spain, Belgium, France, Bulgaria, Albania, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Norway, the Czech Republic, Georgia and Austria have gone through Badger C-IED training since October 2010. More than 12,000 students have participated in the lessons.

Helping all coalition troops is a major priority for the team. “We’ve got to make sure that everyone who is going into Afghanistan is properly trained in how to operate effectively in the IED environment,” Col. Oliver says. “That’s going to keep them alive; we’re saving lives.”

Badger Team’s work has been accomplished in a relatively short time span. The unit officially stood up March 1 with 20 U.S. soldiers and contractors, though some operations began last October with only two people managing the effort. The official establishment coincided with the three-day Coalition Counter-IED Training Conference put on by the team. Col. Oliver explains that the event allowed his people to introduce themselves and their mission to the C-IED community in Europe, and it brought together representatives from around the continent to meet and build relationships. These connections should help enhance future opportunities for collaboration.

 

Sgt. 1st Class Jamie L. Tompkins, USA, tells attendees of the Coalition Counter-IED Training Conference what can be found in a homemade explosives laboratory. His talk was enhanced by a display exhibiting commonly seen tools and chemicals used by a bomb-maker, part of the "Lifecycle of an IED" presentation. Badger Team lessons focus on various aspects of the C-IED fight, including attacking the network. The presentation topic was one of the main themes of the conference.

Leaders created Badger Team after identifying a weakness in C-IED training across the board in Europe. They sought to provide lessons in normal training rotations before groups deploy. Such training is essential to the mission in Afghanistan because IEDs are the number one cause of battlefield casualties by a wide margin, causing approximately 70 percent of deaths. “We like to take the approach that an IED doesn’t care who it kills,” Col. Oliver says. “We have to train everybody to be aware and how to practice good IED techniques.”

Those lessons range from defeating the device to attacking insurgent networks. To counteract IEDs, troops must understand not only the tactics of avoiding and disarming IEDs, but also where they originate and why they are being used. This training involves an extensive partnership among combat units, explosive ordnance disposal experts and the intelligence community to learn the answers to those questions and to provide the information to C-IED trainers so operators ultimately can neutralize the IED threat.

The action and tenacity required to meet those goals inspired the team’s moniker. “The Badger—pound for pound—is probably one of the fiercest animals on the planet,” Col. Oliver explains. “We have to take the same aggressive approach to counter-IED training to ensure that our soldiers are properly prepared and have the most current information to defeat IEDs.”

The team offers training that is open to any military organization that can come up with the funding and that NATO approves for attendance, up to a brigade-size unit—approximately 4,500 to 5,000 troops. “If they’re going to Afghanistan or another IED environment, we’re the place for them to come and learn,” the colonel says. The United States could help fund a country that lacks the money to pay for itself, but that would be handled through organizations outside the JMTC.

To arrange for students, U.S. Army Europe breaks time into blocks and holds a scheduling conference every six months during which officials explain what classes will be offered during those periods. If the United States wants specific countries to attend, it reaches out and offers to reserve seats. “Those guys get first dibs,” Col. Oliver says. After that, Badger Team opens training to other groups.

No matter who attends, the team helps close the gap in resources between U.S. C-IED functions and those of its allies. “We have a lot of partners in our coalition and a lot of these partners come from the EUCOM AOR [area of responsibility],” Col. Oliver says. “What we’re finding is that most of our partners aren’t as capable as we are at conducting the level of training that’s needed in an Afghanistan-type environment.”

During the classes at Hohenfels, students have a chance to practice together. “Everyone learns as we start sharing ideas and getting to know each other,” Col. Oliver explains. “We rarely train just a single nation at once.” Typically, Badger Team hosts representatives from two or three nations at a time, with up to five participating concurrently. Col. Oliver shares that few issues have arisen thus far, but one point of friction can crop up at the beginning of courses—language barriers. Though the common language is English, technical details that participants must discuss can cause communications problems. The colonel says the key is patience; through context and tactical hands-on lessons, the challenge resolves itself within a couple of days.

Military members of Badger Team are chosen in part because of their ability to work in a multinational environment. “Not everyone is capable of that day to day,” Col. Oliver explains. “It’s a different set of skills to do that on a constant basis.” He also looks for people who could impart lessons to others successfully. “Not everyone is a trainer,” he states. Another required qualification is experience in the IED fight.

All of the military trainers are staff sergeants or sergeants first class. In some cases, team leaders identified individuals with the right skill sets and recruited them. More often, they talked to commanders, outlined their requirements, and asked for personnel recommendations. Selected soldiers went through an interview process before receiving an offer to join the team. Civilian Badgers were chosen based on their area of expertise; the team had specific requirements it wanted met, and it contracted for people who could fill them.

Training by the team includes general and specific aspects of C-IED operations. It also focuses on information sharing as different partners explain their knowledge and experiences enabling both trainers and trainees to learn from these sessions. “No one has [a] 100 percent solution,” Col. Oliver says. IEDs are versatile and often vary from one region to another, so allies may have different knowledge based on where they fought previously. Depending on the topic, courses led by Badger Team can run from five days to 20 days. Two shorter training options are a baseline course focused on teaching trainers and a robotics class. The longer training involves tactical lessons including time spent in the training lanes.

In addition to the work conducted at Hohenfels, team members travel to other countries to assist with efforts to stand up local training. They also deploy to Afghanistan for three to four weeks at a time to talk to boots-on-the-ground warfighters and other experts about the latest in IED trends and effective countermeasures. Staying abreast of developments is critical to making training valid.

One of the groups with which the Badger Team meets is Task Force Paladin, a C-IED team in Afghanistan. Col. Oliver says his people are tied in with the task force to share current information on trends in terms of both defeating the device and insurgent tactics. Badger Team also culls lessons from C-IED centers of excellence in the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain. The former two are run by the individual countries; NATO manages the latter. The team learns more by talking to U.S. and international-partner subject matter experts (SMEs) who come through Germany and explain what they witnessed; how tactics, techniques and procedures work in the field; and their overall perspectives.

“Our primary focus is Afghanistan because that’s where the big fight is right now,” Col. Oliver explains. However, he adds, his team is working to ensure that it, and its students, are prepared for the next battlefields as well. “I think the IED is going to be the insurgents’ weapon of choice for a long time,” the colonel says. U.S. forces must be prepared to handle IEDs no matter the environment and to help their partners do the same. Col. Oliver says the United States is working closely with European allies, especially those with experiences beyond Afghanistan, to determine the methods for defeating IEDs in other locations.

To ensure further that it provides the best training possible, Badger Team has feedback mechanisms in place. Students in the classes fill out surveys at the end of their courses evaluating the instruction. The SMEs who visit the team receive their own forms on which to leave their opinions. Col. Oliver says 90 percent of the feedback they receive from students is positive, and most of what they hear from SMEs is the same. However, the latter “have been very critical and they’ve helped us get better.” The colonel says that he is eager for frank evaluations that can help improve his operations. “We’re not looking for pats on the back,” he states. Instead, he and his organization look forward to bringing more troops home safely.

WEB RESOURCES
Joint Multinational Training Command: www.hqjmtc.army.mil
International Security Assistance Force: www.isaf.nato.int