FORT POLK, La. -- Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno visited the Joint Readiness Training Center, or JRTC, on Fort Polk, April 21-22, to observe training by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, while also visiting with both rotational and home-based Soldiers and leaders.
Odierno visited with Soldiers and leaders at the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division's tactical operations center near Geronimo Drop Zone. He presented several coins, and then stopped by brigade combat team's defensive positions before meeting with InterAgency Interdependence personnel at the U.S. Consulate in Dari Lam, one of the many training sites at JRTC.
While visiting with the brigade combat team leadership, Odierno talked about the use of air support and artillery and how those missions change outside of the Middle East. He also spoke about the thinking and logic that went into redesigning the team.
He also used the occasion to identify a task, which he said was important for commanders.
He asked the commanders how they utilize their scouting capability to provide early warning. He also asked them how they used their scouts and if they comfortable with how they were used.
After listening to the battalion commanders explain how they deployed to their scouts in the previous night's battle, Odierno offered the following guidance.
"The reason I asked those questions is that over the last 10 years we haven't been using our scouts correctly," he said. "It's time for us to get back into how we shape the battlefield."
Odierno said the questions he always asks commanders when he visits is, "What was your intelligence collection plan, what was your observation plan, and how was that integrated between the scouts and your maneuver elements in order to shape the battlefield?"
"That's the kind of thing we don't do well throughout the Army," he said. "We just haven't done it. It's about getting back into the practice of understanding how you do that, how you shape the battlefield, no matter what assets you have. I understand a lot of your UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] were down and you didn't have that capability, but you've got to figure out how to do without them. What I've found is we don't have well-developed observation and collection plans. My question for you is, 'who develops your collection plan?'"
Odierno said if it is the battalion S2 - that's the wrong answer.
"It should be the commander and S3," he said. "If you as a commander is not involved in it, it's not going to get done right. You've got to be directing it, you've got to be giving guidance, telling them what to do, what you want to collect on, what your key areas are, all of that stuff. Even if you're wrong, at least they're out collecting on it and giving you feedback. It can't be a lieutenant S2 developing your plan because he's not going to understand what you need."
Developing a collection plan is one of the most critical things a commander has to do, he said.
"You must provide guidance on how you want to shape the battlefield in your area of operation," Odierno said. "I don't worry about our ability to fight, but it's how we shape that's really hard."
Odierno also talked about the importance of the JRTC in preparing Soldiers for future battles.
"We know you can't replicate exactly what it's like on a deployment, but what we try to do is challenge everybody here so that when you have to deploy, you have a better understanding of what it is like," he said. "That's what we try to create here."
As he was speaking to airborne Soldiers, Odierno said they could expect the number of airborne operations to increase.
"One of the things we've stepped up over the last six or eight months are the number of airborne operations we're doing, and we're going to continue to do that," he said. "We found out that because of all the deployments we've had, frankly, we weren't doing airborne operations. So now, we're really focused on doing more airborne operations and we're trying to do them with other nations too. We have some funding issues, but the one thing we're trying to do is maintain a high-level of training readiness and invest as much as we can in that. More and more operations are popping up and I think we're going to have an opportunity to do more cooperation with other nations -- we're going to do more in Europe, more in Korea, continue to do more obviously in the Middle East. There will be a lot of opportunities for us to do things around the world."
As he prepared to leave, Odierno thanked the Soldiers for their service.
"I want to thank you for raising your right hand and swearing an oath to defend our Constitution," he said. "Less than 1 percent of the people decide to do that and that makes you special in my mind. I understand everyone comes in for different reasons, but the fact that you're willing to do that says a lot about you as an individual and you should be very proud of that. Take that with you wherever you go and whatever you decide to do. It's clear you're working very hard. I'm proud of all of you and happy to meet you."
After lunch, Odierno was given a windshield tour of Fort Polk, hosted by JRTC and Fort Polk commander Brig. Gen. Timothy McGuire.
Odierno began his visit to Louisiana, April 21, with a trip to Camp Beauregard to receive a Special Operations Task Force briefing, followed by a meeting with rotational unit leadership at JRTC's Geronimo Drop Zone.