FORT BLISS – Working apart the past two months hasn’t stopped the U.S. Army Joint Modernization Command from finding ways to socialize, recognize service and get missions accomplished.
Retirement and promotion ceremonies have continued, but with the addition of a worldwide audience watching via live streaming video on JMC’s Facebook page. Though only a few people can physically participate in the ceremonies, Soldiers’ families can watch the ceremony live from wherever they are. JMC commander Brig. Gen. Johnny Davis said, despite any obstacles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was essential to provide the honors and awards that Soldiers earned for their service.
“We will always do the right thing for our men and women in uniform,” Davis said during the retirement ceremony of Sgt. 1st Class (Ret.) Ian Walsh in late May. “No matter what our country is going through, we’re still going to take the time to honor the men and women who have served our nation. Whatever it takes.”
To remind Soldiers about the importance of remaining fit while continuing to isolate, Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Gunn, JMC’s senior enlisted advisor, kicked off the JMC Fitness Challenge of the Week. The challenges, which are posted each week to JMC’s Facebook page, have included bicycling, pushup and running goals.
JMC Soldiers and civilians have jumped on board, posting numerous pictures of themselves and their families participating. The friendly competition has allowed JMC personnel to socialize with each other and share their families’ activities with their co-workers.
Like the rest of the Department of Defense, JMC personnel have quickly taken to collaborative teleworking tools like Microsoft Teams, DISA phone bridges and DCS Connect.
Some have found that the collaborative and distributive tools offered some advantages over the usual face-to-face discussion groups.
For instance, the Futures and Concepts Center’s Future Study Program, an annual series of table-top experiments and learning events designed to shape and inform modernization decisions by Army senior leaders, had planned to conduct its first experiment on the AimPoint Force in May at the U.S. Army War College.
When the group could no longer gather, it seemed like a blow to the effort.
But Lt. Col. Billy VanCuren, integration chief in the Multi-Domain Operations Group at JMC, noted that JMC could have sent only two or three people to the Army War College for the discussions. When the three-week experiment was moved into a telework environment, nearly all of the Multi-Domain Operations Group was able to participate.
“When COVID-19 happened, you can’t travel, so they put a lot of effort into figuring out how to do this, not only distributed, but on an unclassified system,” VanCuren said.
“There are some things that we just can’t talk about outside of a secret environment, but they looked at what they wanted to get done and figured out a way forward. There were a lot more subject matter experts able to participate than they would have otherwise. You can only send so many people to a place, but when you do it this way, everyone who can dial in can go.”
The wide participation by JMC’s Multi-Domain Operations Group allowed them to gain situational awareness and understand the arguments behind the development of the AimPoint Force. The AimPoint Force effort is working to justify which units and capabilities are necessary to maintain or expand the U.S. Army’s competition space in Europe and the Asian-Pacific area.
“We can competently discuss with a training unit or a three-star staff such as European Command … we can confidently answer their questions about why they don’t have something or why they do have something,” VanCuren said. “That’s where my team, which is largely responsible for where the rubber meets the road when it comes to Multi-Domain Operations, that’s where we bring value to the table for the theorists. We bring the force perspective to them.”
The Joint All-Domain Command and Control division at JMC has jumped into an effort supporting the Network Cross-Functional Team at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Lt. Col. Nathan Saul, chief of integration and plans in the JADC2 division, said because they often work with people spread across three or four time zones, they quickly adapted to the new work effort.
“We did kind of expect this to happen, and we did already use DCS Connect, and we did some robust phone bridges, so we had a pretty good plan going into it,” Saul said. “But what really helped us out is Microsoft Teams, and the functionality that that brings. It’s a very good program. I thought it was great how the Army moved to Teams so quickly, and that was outstanding support, DOD-wide.”
JMC’s JADC2 division is supporting the Network CFT with a network governance meeting structure, with five or six meetings a week, all technically focused on different areas of the network design.
“It’s theirs to lead, but our technicians, our subject matter experts and our team is helping them with the process of network design for Project Convergence,” Saul said. “Project Convergence is scheduled for the fall, but the planning is going on now.”
Though personnel in the Field Experiments Division at JMC would typically be, well, in the field, working with Soldiers to assess equipment, concepts and capabilities, they have also found ways to keep the Army Modernization Enterprise moving forward while travel is restricted.
Chuck Clark, capability integration analyst in the Field Experiments Division, said the division had set the precedent for virtual work during the past several years when their leads stayed at Fort Bliss during the Joint Warfighting Assessments.
“We would write our reports by collaborating daily through emails and telecoms,” Clark said. “In hindsight, it was good we did that because it prepared us for this.”
Clark was recently able to finish an initial insights report on the Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle – Sensor Suite Upgrade.
“We completed the assessment of the NBCRV-SSU,” Clark said. “It wasn’t really a big difference from the way we do business other than the fact that it got shortened by COVID-19. So, we didn’t get to participate in the full brigade-level exercise, as anticipated. But we did get a lot of opportunities to do excursions during the Bulldog Focus exercise at the company level, so we still had successful data collection. The actual development of the report really wasn’t hindered very much.”
Maj. JaMarco Bowen, force manager in JMC’s Field Experiments Division, is writing an initial insights report on the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. Bowen and JMC were able to complete the first operational assessment in early March at Fort Polk, Louisiana, just before travel was restricted. Though the schedule for the next operational assessments are being adjusted, Bowen is pushing forward.
“The JLTV effort is a large study that’s going to inform the Army G8 on the proper mix of light tactical vehicles, which includes the JLTV,” Bowen said. “It’s a collaboration with TRADOC, FORSCOM and Army Futures Command. We are at the beginning; the assessment doesn’t end until 2nd quarter of fiscal year 2021.”
Though the COVID-19 pandemic dropped some well-laid plans right in the trash, JMC and the whole Army Modernization Enterprise have quickly adjusted to move projects forward.
“It is stressful with the limited child-care facilities and school being out; but people are making it happen,” Lt. Col. Saul said. “You can hear across the phone bridge, every now and then you hear a kid in the background, stuff like that. But everyone Joint Force-wide is adjusting to life at home, staying fully engaged.”
Teleconferencing across the force, organizing virtual ceremonies and meetings, learning new programs, all while challenging each other to stay fit and ready: JMC and the Army continue to push modernization forward with purpose and dedication.