Tactical and Technical
Operations Sergeant: The Job, The Myth, The LegendBy Nick Korfias May 15, 2019
This article will cover the Operations Sergeant (OPS SGT) role within a battlegroup preparing to take on the responsibility of the Ready Battle Group (RBG). I will cover my experiences both when in barracks and also whilst conducting the Integrated Sea Land Series (ISLS) and Exercise (Ex) HAMEL 2018. I learned a lot in this role. I learned just as much from my mistakes as my successes. I’m hoping this article will let others learn from my experience and take the role further.
One of the biggest initial challenges I faced moving into the Ops space was going from that platoon bubble, to understanding ‘the bigger picture’ and beginning to understand strategic level thinking.
The first and most important lesson I learned was the strategic importance and relevance of the RBG as an organisation. I had previously thought the focus was all on the Middle East. Once we started getting read in and preparing, it was easy to see that Indo-Pacific Region is our backyard and very important.
My job was a lot like a watchkeeper, in the field and out. I was a fixer, responsible for fixing problems that arose and working out what needed to be elevated to the Current Operations Captain (S33) or Operations Officer (OPSO). My entire job hinged on trust and relationships, in everything I did.
So, what does an OPS SGT actually do?
Receiving Battle Group Orders for the final push during EX HAMEL 2018
In Barracks – Current Operations Watchkeeper
Every morning we would have an Ops Sync with the OPSO. We would deliver key points in all staff functions. Even when time was pressed the OPSO would still make time for the Intelligence and Current Ops updates. I delivered the current ops of what the Battalion was doing that day and what key activities were occurring. I would also brief key points raised in Situation Reports (SITREPs) from elements deployed on exercise/overseas. I would come in early to prepare for this and it would take a robust approach to ensure it was accurate – relying on an out of date sync matrix or training program is not going to cut it. I think the morning sync was a critical activity for our Ops Team and allows you to have your finger on pulse of the unit. It brings everyone on net and allows for the prioritisation of tasks to be allocated as well. Something I found worked well for me was to come into work earlier than the first parade time, for me most mornings in by 0600 hrs. I know some people out there are thinking that is ridiculous but this allowed me to check emails and prepare my morning update brief for the OPSO and get ahead of my work for the day. It also meant I was at work while my family was asleep which in turn meant I was more able to walk out the door at 1600 every day and be with my family in the afternoon and evening before they went to sleep. Obviously there were times when working late couldn’t be avoided, but I believed this helped me develop the elusive work life balance.
In Barracks – Projects
Another role is coordinating battalion level and potentially Brigade level training activities, as directed by the OPSO. We were all given at least one major activity to run alongside our routine responsibilities. It let the Future Operations Captain (S35) focus on the large activities like ISLS and Rifle Company Butterworth (RCB). I was lucky enough to pick up everyone’s favourite: Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET).
Being the Mounting Unit, we took on the responsibility of getting the RBG HUET qualified. This was a monumental task as every unit in the Brigade believed that their call sign was the priority for it. Once again it links back to those relationships you establish early. In doing so I was able to liaise efficiently with the other units to negotiate numbers for HUET as there were very limited positions for the training. To put it in perspective, there were only 600 training positions for the Brigade. 8/9 RAR had a manning of 605 at the time we commenced HUET and this didn’t include personnel attached to the battlegroup. Once the battlegroup mounted there was close to 1000 personnel in it.
So came the hard task of prioritising the call signs. To do this, a key aspect was the coord conference which allowed for units to put forward their case to get the troops HUET qualified. A key tip we learned is to have your Regimental Aid Post manager at this conference. Their understanding of the outcomes of the conference allows them to book more doctors to conduct the medicals. They can also give you all the requirements and information you need to pass onto the soldiers, as well as allowing those good old-fashioned red herrings to be sorted out. If you require multiple conferences, then have them – this allows for last minute changes or negotiations to take place.
Once the positions had been allocated, the next big challenge was the training itself. This required what some may believe as micro managing, but to achieve the task of getting people from both within and outside the Brigade to attend the briefs and rock up on the day of the training with the correct paperwork and equipment, you have to closely supervise this. Because as much as you believe you are working with mature adults, you would be surprised at how many make what they think is a small mistake but which has massive flow on effects. An example of this is failing to do something as simple as signing the sign-in sheet for the safety lessons; individuals not doing that and then showing up for the practical component (which they cannot undertake due to there being no record of them having undertaking the prerequisite safety lessons) results in that training position being lost, and then you have to brief the OPSO about a valuable position wasted. That position isn’t given back at a later date: it is gone and the flow on effects are that you don’t have the required personnel to conduct airmobile operations as a part of the RBG. To some doesn’t sound that bad but remember the RBG is strategic assets for the government. This links into the comment I made before about understanding the bigger picture and strategic level thinking.
Below are some hot jungle tips if you find yourself lucky enough to be the unit’s HUET guy:
- Hold a coord conference well in advance.
- conduct a bulk booking for medicals
- be at every safety brief
- Call a roll before each training block leaves for the practical, also do equipment and paperwork checks just in case a digger’s dog ate his medical form.
- Get a back brief from the group commander on who is competent and not yet competent.
- Compile a tracker that has the medical results, who has completed the brief and who has conducted the training. This helps when briefing the boss on progress. It also gives the unit the ability to get in early and ask for more money to conduct further training blocks later if required.
- Back brief daily in the Ops Sync. This will help if call signs are not doing what’s required and if the OPSO/OPSWO need to engage with the sub unit to fix.
In Barracks – Training Support Requests
Another role of the OPS SGT is to assist the OPSWO in the management of the unit’s Training Support Requests (TSR) allocated by Forces Command. Once again, linking back to relationships they become important when you need to ask for non-platform support from other units for your unit’s training. As with anything, a training program is an ever-evolving beast with changes happening all the time. Having that good rapport with your counterparts allows you to get the informal liaison part of TSRs done quickly to meet the deadlines. It also allows for those last-minute changes to an activity for most part is unforeseen. Being able to pick the phone up and call your counterpart to make amendments is key to allow good training to continue unhindered.
Don’t be afraid to offer up some opportunities to your counterparts to facilitate your training. This comes back to establishing trust. There were times when I needed to make changes or increase the support request. I had the trust of my OPSO to offer up things to get my request approved and the training to go on. Also having the ability of a used cars salesman also helped as well. Your time in ops will see you master the art of impact statement writing in regards to TSR support. You learn about how wording is key when it comes to the impact statement; this can see you gain or lose a lot of tasks if not written properly, which in turn can impact on the unit’s ability to meet the commander’s intent for the training year. Get familiar with the Army capability management system (ACMS) from the very beginning!
In Barracks – Resourcing
As well as ACMS you will master the art of the Training And Resources Plan (aka TARP) during your time in ops. At first, this seemed like a daunting task but in all honesty, it gave me an insight to what resources the unit had, how they was allocated, and the processes to get more if required. Another aspect was the ability to be the voice of the soldiers and my peers when it came to forecasting for the future at Brigade. It was important to be able to articulate both the training outcomes given to us, and how the limited resources allocated didn’t allow for us to meet these outcomes at the appropriate standard that one would expect for a professional soldier. This allowed us to successfully bid for additional resources.
For example, a unit is required to get every soldier to conduct all the basic rifle practices to be proficient and deployable, while also wanting all soldiers to be enhanced combat shooting qualified. For this to occur to just the base standard (qualified not competent) a regular infantry battalion would require a minimum of 1.3 million 5.56mm and approx. 500,000 9mm rounds, but for the FY 18/19 an infantry unit has approx. 230,000 5.56mm and about 30,000 9mm live rounds for the year. Now these figures don’t include conducting live fire attacks from individual up to battalion level. So you need to be able to understand how to write your supplementary bid (SUPBID) linking them to outcomes. However, this can also be a double edged sword: if you request too much, and then hand a lot back at the end, this can affect of the unit’s reputation. So having an understanding of how both the Training Plan process and the SUPBID process work, will help take some of the burden of meeting the training outcomes easier. It also gives you a hand in enhancing your unit’s capability for army.
Knowledge of your unit’s resources also helps you as the OPS SGT provide guidance to your peers in the companies when it comes to planning activities for their sub units, as they can ask you simply what resources they have available to plan with. This allows for more economy of effort in planning, rather than they come up with great training only to be told they don’t have the resources to conduct it, wasting time and effort which then leads down the path of ‘can’t be bothered to’.
The Training Area Safety & Management Information System (TASMIS) also is another key aspect and responsibility of the OPS SGT. You are the monitor of unit bookings and ensuring that sub units conduct all necessary actions required with their bookings. This is something that you deal with on a daily basis, including making sure sub units attend required range conferences, have the right paperwork, conduct all after action reports and close off their bookings. Not keeping on top of this can once again lead to your unit getting a bad reputation.
In the Field – Watchkeeper
During my tenure as OPS SGT I deployed on ISLS 18 which saw the first rotational ground combat element embark onto the landing helicopter dock (LHDs). This saw my roles change from ACMS and TASMIS to watch keeping as well as maintaining the current Ops space within the Ops team. This also saw the battalion surge forward ahead of the rest of army in the digital comms space. Our Command Post (CP) utilised the Battlefield Management System (BMS) to its maximum capacity; the days of holding a hand set in one hand and furiously scribing a radio transmission into a notebook is a thing of the past. Digital comms allows for the radio net to be freed up so that the Commanding Officer (CO) can talk directly and uninterrupted to his company commanders if required. BMS is a great tool, especially for a watch keeper, as some may well know that trying to write down a radio message in a busy and noisy CP is like trying to get recon platoon out of PT gear and into dress of the day. So having all things sent via BMS allows you the ability to get timely and accurate information to the right person.
Battle Group Ram Digital Battle Group Command Post during ISLS 18
I was by no means a BMS master. In fact, at first I was pretty much hopeless at using BMS. However, its simplicity meant that after a few soldier 5’s from my OPS clerk I was proficient enough to be able to get 9 liners in and sent onto higher in a blink of an eye, and I was able to update the overlays with current dispositions, which allowed the S33 the ability to be able to brief whoever at a moment’s notice. Working in your pairs as you do in barracks allows for rest and rotation to occur whilst on exercise. This was definitely a pro during ISLS 18 and EX HAMEL 18. While digital comms is fantastic, having a good old whiteboard close is also a must: getting a timeline down on the white board during a chaotic event allows for people within the CP to see what’s happening and where things are at whilst not interfering with the OPS SGT/Watch keeper.
In the Field – Battle Rhythm
A battle rhythm is key to managing the workload within the OPS team whilst in the field. This allows for the rest rotation cycle to be established, but also reduces the amount of random people in the CP talking and causing distraction and interference to the running of a highly mobile Battlegroup. When things get busy in the CP, or the OPSWO isn’t around, the Ops SGT steps up and assumes his responsibilities.
It is essential to establish good working relationship, not just within your team but with higher headquarters, your counterparts within other units in the Brigade, as well as with the RSM, ADJT, company 2ICs and CSMs. These are the people you interact with the most through the course of the year for activities, exercises and Training Support Requests (TSR). Getting to know your counterparts with the other units in your Brigade and Brigade headquarters is important. This will help you when those “lastminute.com” requests come in.
Before you establish those other relationships you need to have a good working relationship within your own Ops team. Building that trust between all members of the team is vital. Having that trust from the OPSO down is important because there will be times that you need to make a decision when the OPSO isn’t around to make it.
The operations officer is by far one of the key relationships you need to build, especially the trust component, as when it comes down to the minor tasks that come in you can make decisions and get the responses back to the appropriate people and meet deadlines. This frees up the OPSO to focus on the more complex and important tasks/activities coming in, especially as you begin the transition from readying to ready. Whilst working within the ops cell you are in a lucky space when it comes to mentoring as you get mentored closely by the heads of ops and you get the chance to mentor the junior soldiers within ops.
I also drew on the subject matter knowledge of our logistics Warrant Officer (LOGWO) and OPS Mover. They helped me understand logistical requirements for TSRs that we were requesting and also being asked to support. They also provided that knowledge for the requests coming from within the unit for training.
Understanding your CO’s intent and having a good relationship with your Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) are key when it comes to the community engagement piece. While it’s important to continue to engage with the community sometimes you have to say no. Knowing the CO’s intent, and having the ability to go to your RSM and say we can’t support it for these reasons, is crucial as he will be the best person to explain to the boss that doing it will take resources away from other important tasks. I was fortunate enough to have an RSM who had trust in me and my decision making. He knew if I was coming to him and saying we couldn’t support it that I had exhausted all avenues, as he himself is a busy man as we all know.
One of Battle Group Ram’s OPS teams during ISLS 18
Swallow your pride
I believe a key to the successful running of the Ops cell I worked within was the splitting of the team into pairs with me and the Operations Warrant Officer (OPSWO) as a pair and the Ops CAPT and Ops Clerk as a pair. This allowed for tasks to be divided up for maximum effort, especially during high tempo periods. Another key point for success is not to be afraid to get guidance from someone else, especially if you outrank them. Many times I went to our Ops clerk, who was a digger at the time, who was a lot more competent in pretty much all areas and components of the OPS space. I learned a lot from this PTE: he was able to show me how he did things and how he learnt himself, as a lot of it was self-taught. This created a good working environment within our team. Pairing yourself with the OPSWO also allows you to understudy and learn what to expect when you make the next leap to Warrant Officer. Once again I was fortunate to work with two very competent OPSWOs during my time in the cell.
The biggest surprise I had was that I really enjoyed my time as the operations sergeant. As I said in the beginning, I don’t profess to have the perfect solutions, just some good old fashioned ‘hot jungle tips for young players’ that weren’t available for me when I went into the role. It is my personal opinion that if you are a career soldier, then a stint as the operations sergeant will help you develop as a senior non-commissioned officer and prepare you for the next step in your career. It also helped me improve my service writing and my organisational skills, which in turn set me up for the CO’s next monumental task for me: the rebuilding of the Battalion’s Pipes and Drums… but I’ll not get into that in this article!