Thursday, June 7, 2007

CEXC: Introducing a ‘new’ concept in the Art of War

U.S. Navy photo by MC1(SW/AW) Joseph Wilson

Petty Officer 1st Class Trevor Barlow, Senior Chief Petty Officer Brett Wallace, Lt. Dave Cearly and Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Huber (l. to r.), members of the Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell-Afghanistan team, break from training workups.
Over the centuries, the tactics involved in the ‘‘Art of War” have evolved. The fight inherited by this generation’s armed forces has changed so that it demands newer techniques and procedures from the troops on the ground. Battlefield commanders are now relying on new facets of technology and highly-trained personnel to carry out missions with new meaning.

Though tactics have changed for the military and many of the enemies we’ve faced as a nation, General Ulysses S. Grant stated it best when he was quoted as saying, ‘‘The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can; strike at him as hard as you can and as often as you can, and keep moving on.”

The Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division, located in Indian Head Maryland is doing just that, and has been at the forefront of meeting the demands of the ‘‘New” Art of War. Among the initiatives the command has been involved in to help develop those new facets of technology and train personnel to the highest standards, NAVEODTECHDIV has incorporated into its arsenal for fighting the global war on terror, the Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell ,or CEXC.

Combining forces with several other organizations to make it fully mission capable, the role of the CEXC is considered simple enough: Provide for collection, exploitation, reporting and forensic analysis of evidence and technical intelligence from explosive-related incidents (e.g., IED, post-blast, caches).

However, for Lt. Dave Cearly, Senior Chief Brett Wallace, Petty Officers 1st Class Trevor Barlow, Sean Huber and Joseph Wilson it has been anything but simple. These five Sailors from NAVEODTECHDIV are in the training pipeline to man up the CEXC Lab in Afghanistan in June.

Anyone that has been on any major deployment work-up cycle can appreciate the rigors of the everyday, non-stop ‘til you drop action that comes along with them. This group of CEXC-Afghanistan members is going into the third month of their work-up cycle with crunch time slowly creeping up on them.

They opened their training cycle March 11 with a trip to Mississippi for a week of combat shooting, where they donned full body armor kits and ran several shooting drills to hone their marksman skills.

The training the team received in Mississippi is truly second to none, said Cearly, the officer in charge of the CEXC-A team.

‘‘Due to the nature in which the CEXC Team is to operate, combat survivability really is the key to our success of the overall mission,” said Cearly.

‘‘When we arrive in Afghanistan, initially we’ll be one unit, but shortly thereafter the team will be broken up and placed at separate remote locations undertaking tasks which may require them to travel quite a bit, Cearly said, noting that it can be extraordinarily dangerous when transiting from place to place in a war zone and the skills obtained during the training evolution in Mississippi are very valuable, not only for self-defense, but also for the defense of the team.

Looking out for the guy next to you is something that is instilled in military personnel from the first day of basic training. Team building is an essential part of everyday military life. For the gentlemen tasked with deploying to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, they got a chance to bond into a cohesive unit in the desert of California during the last week of March at Desert Evasion and Survival Training provided by the Fleet Aviation Specialized Operations Group Pacific, North Island, California.

Although it can be made to be fun, it’s certainly no game when it comes to learning about survival. During the classroom portion of the course, the team learned about desert survival, concentrating on different true to life scenarios they might encounter while in country.

Next came the practical phase of the training. This is the phase where teams are made or broken. It is at this stage where the team has to dig down deep and gut it out for one another. Learning the ‘‘ins and outs” of surviving in the desert is paramount to any mission operating in the area. For some, this would be their first time experiencing something of this nature, while for others it’s becoming sort of a routine.

‘‘Although this won’t be my first time going into theatre, this will be my first time going with this particular group,” said Huber, an EOD technician with the CEXC-A team. ‘‘From exposing yourself to the elements of the desert environment for days on end to navigating and scaling our way, in total darkness mind you, through some treacherous mountain terrain, it proved to be a great opportunity to build this team.

‘‘We were definitely solidified as a team out there,” he said.

After just a few days back at home, the team was on the road again for some very important briefs with the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization in Crystal City, Va., the Terrorist Explosives Device Analytical Center in Quantico, Va., and then they were off to the National Ground Intelligence Center located in Charlottesville, Va.

It is at these stops, the team was briefed on what would be needed from them while on deployment, to provide the assistance needed to continue making process improvements.

‘‘This war is an ever evolving war,” said Wallace, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the CEXC-A team. ‘‘We need to continue to evolve our processes and procedures to ensure we’re gathering the necessary intelligence to keep the bad guys on the ropes.”

No war can be fought effectively and won if the lines of communication are not always open. Understanding the roles of these organizations helps to make things clear in the big picture.

‘‘At first, it seemed like a duplication of effort on each organizations part, but as we moved on to the final day of briefing, it all started coming together,” Wallace said. ‘‘I’m very optimistic about the effort being put forth by these organizations. The more eyes that are on the same target is always better. Better conclusions can be inferred and I can say with confidence it will be worth it in the end.”

The team was off once again to another training site April 16-20. This time to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colo., for the FBI Combat Post Blast course. This gave the team the opportunity to run through some real-time, training-based scenarios, so they could utilize their skills while working with different groups.

The scenarios brought back a flood of memories for Wilson, a mass communications specialist with the CEXC-A team.

‘‘The post blast scenarios were the kind of training that took me back to the roots of what I’ve learned throughout my naval career when shooting damage and crime scene photography,” said Wilson, who explained that forensic aspects of photography is just one of the tools being implemented to help catch the terrorists.

‘‘My job in the grand scheme of things is to ensure I get high quality photos, after working a scene, to the intelligence folks as soon as possible,” he said.

Barlow, another EOD technician with the CEXC-A team, echoed Wilson’s call, saying that the training he received at Fort Carson was the most pertinent training that could have possibly gotten for their mission.

‘‘When we get the call to respond to a blast site, it’s not going to be pretty out there for sure,” he said. ‘‘This gave us the opportunity to take what would normally require days or weeks to uncover, and concentrate that into a viable time frame in which we would be working.

‘‘In Afghanistan, we definitely won’t have the luxury of time being on our side,” Barlow continued. ‘‘The tactical situation does not permit a lot of time to prosecute a crime scene for evidence. This training helped us narrow our focus without losing sight of the objective, which is to collect the necessary forensic evidence to bring the bad guys to justice.”

As the final weeks approach before the team deploys, a few weeks of rest and relaxation could be in order, but it was truly no rest for the weary as they headed off to Virginia Beach, Va., for four weeks of team training, continuing to improve and focus their attention at the task at hand.

For this team, the Art of War is just as General Grant conveyed; simply learn as much as you can about your enemy and success is inevitable.