336th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade conducts virtual battle assembly due to COVID-19 concerns

By Maj. Daniel Denn | 336th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade | March 31, 2020

FORT DIX, N.J. —

The 336th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade successfully piloted the U.S. Army Reserve’s first virtual battle assembly with the participation of more than 500 soldiers from the unit March 21 to 22. The 336th E-MIB Soldiers from across the U.S. connected remotely to participate in the two days of scheduled training.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey, chief of Army Reserve and commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve Command, recently ordered the Army Reserve to halt monthly in-person training to maintain the health and safety of the force.

“We’re not going to conduct any battle assemblies for the near future unless exceptions are granted for specific reasons,” said Luckey. “There may be certain units that we need to continue to allow to conduct certain activities, and we’ll decide that on a case-by-case basis.”

As a result, 336th E-MIB leaders looked for new ways to maintain readiness and ensure soldiers could receive their monthly military pay and benefits. The unit received authorization to plan and test an online classroom format for the entire organization as a flexible and innovative way to sustain operations and ensure soldiers could receive military pay and benefits during an especially challenging time.

Brig. Gen. Terri Borras, commanding general of the Military Intelligence Readiness Command, gave opening remarks during the training event.

“You are all contributing to a pilot program for the Army Reserve. This will be the model for how reserve Soldiers are able to complete a good year and sustain training for upcoming deployments during challenging situations,” said Borras.

Battle assembly is normally a time when Army Reserve Soldiers physically meet and train with their colleagues on military installations or Army Reserve centers worldwide. As more civilian employees in the government and private sector are working remotely during the ongoing crisis, the MIRC wanted to test its capability as a virtual organization during battle assembly for what is traditionally in-person training.

“It’s a challenging time, but we are turning obstacles into opportunity,” said Col. C. Ryan Gunst, commander of the 336th E-MIB. “We normally operate as a distributed, virtual organization on a daily basis in the Army Reserve, and this is just another method to conduct battle assembly.”

The virtual battle assembly offered a flexible way to virtually bring a large unit together across multiple locations and time zones to collaborate online. It also allowed the brigade to further refine its use of collaborative tools for command post operations. The 336th E-MIB had over 500 Soldiers participate in online training with participants across the U.S. from Massachusetts to Colorado.

During the virtual battle assembly, unit leaders addressed important issues and questions regarding the safety of Soldiers and family members during the ongoing COVID-19 national emergency. Training included interactions with the media, law of war, code of conduct, intelligence oversight, threat awareness and reporting, sexual harassment/assault response and prevention, resiliency, religious support, operations planning and administrative tasks. Instructors asked questions and used periodic polling to ensure soldiers remained online and active throughout the training event.

“This was a case study on the use of mission command. This went from idea to execution in a period of five days through the disciplined initiative and support from our leaders and staff,” said Gunst. “We have shared our lessons learned and best practices with the Military Intelligence Readiness Command that will gradually benefit the entire U.S. Army Reserve.”

The 336th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade is headquartered at Joint Base Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst, New Jersey with subordinate battalions at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and Blackwood, New Jersey.

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