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`The Army's only worldwide deployable combat training center was honored June 22 with the service's Superior Unit Award.
The Battle Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., may not be a household name, but its soldiers are known to command teams across the Army.
The program's mission: prepare brigade-level and higher command teams for war.
"We facilitate training for brigade formations up through numbered armies," said Col. Mark McKnight, commander of BCTP. "There's the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin and the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels, Germany, and we're considered one of the four combat training centers."
BCTP has seven operations groups that deploy across the country and around the world to conduct simulations and training that replicate the environment a deploying unit will encounter. The trainers' focus is on battle command, McKnight said, and preparing a command team or headquarters for its deployment.
The Superior Unit Award recognized BCTP for "outstanding performance in support of the global war on terror and military training" from January 2007 through January 2009, McKnight said.
During that time, BCTP conducted 126 exercises and related events totaling 923 exercise days at various locations worldwide. The soldiers conducted 26 counterinsurgency seminars and 47 brigade-, 12 division-, three corps- and 22 joint-level exercises.
The soldiers also accompany deploying commanders on their pre-deployment site surveys and conduct reconnaissance trips to gain insight into what's new and developing in the war zone, McKnight said.
On May 18, Col. John McHugh, who was assigned to BCTP, was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, after his vehicle was hit by a suicide bomb. Four other soldiers also were killed that day.
Back at home, BCTP soldiers travel often, spending days at a time with units preparing to deploy. About 250 soldiers — most of them field-grade officers — are assigned to BCTP.
A typical exercise has the soldiers spending five days with a unit, conducting a battle command seminar where the commander and his staff work on how they will command in theater and pick up the latest developments via teleconference from commanders already on the ground, such as Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
"Some commanders are visual thinkers, some are text, some make decisions in very small, close-knit groups, some have an ‘it-takes-a-village' approach," McKnight said. "In a nutshell that's what we're looking at, how a commander shapes their headquarters. You're allowing a commander to tailor his or her headquarters based on their style of command leadership."
The BCTP team then returns three or four months later and runs the command team through a mission rehearsal exercise that takes about 12 days to complete.
The teams continue to stay in contact with their units as the units deploy, providing them with support and gleaning lessons learned and best practices, McKnight said.
BCTP has a unique and often behind-the-scenes mission, and the Superior Unit Award is a great way to reinforce the soldiers, civilians and contractors dedicated to its mission, McKnight said.
"It's thanks and appreciation of what these folks have done and continue to do right now," he said.
Soldiers assigned to the BCTP may not be deployed to a combat zone, but they are often on the road and away from home, McKnight said.
"I do appreciate the Army recognizing the uniqueness of the mission and the sacrifice of the folks [here]," he said. "We're allowing those [deploying] units to be at home and train at home, and the cost is we're not at home. But we understand that. If we're in the shoes of a deploying unit we'd want to train at home station, too."