Combat Operations Center keeps RCT-8 going strong

28 Aug 2009 | Cpl. Alan Addison

Every organ in the human body has a specific function to perform in keeping a person active and healthy. Without some of these vital organs, a person’s abilities may become hindered. At the epicenter of all of this activity is the heart, which utilizes veins and arteries to deliver oxygenated blood to the body’s major organs and extremities.  Much like the human body uses arteries and veins to distribute blood throughout the body, the Marine Corps utilizes certain avenues to disseminate information and resources to units operating within their area of operations.

The Marines working in Regimental Combat Team 8’s Combat Operations Center are the heartbeat of the regiment, working endlessly to ensure that a steady flow of information is pumped out to the regiment’s higher, adjacent and subordinate units.

Although the COC may be one section, it’s broken down into specific areas.  These areas include an intelligence section, communications section, movement and control section, as well as a journal clerk and watch officer who works in the COC. All of these entities work together in order to ensure RCT-8 is operating at its full potential.

As a part of the COC, the intelligence section does a lot to oversee the tasks and operations that take place within RCT-8’s area of operations.

“The intelligence section does a lot of work with the unmanned aerial vehicles,” said Maj. Michael Stolzenburg, future-operations officer for RCT-8. “They don’t actually control the UAV’s but they make sure that they are operating in the areas that we need them to be in.”

In addition to working with UAV’s, the intelligence section also gathers intelligence reports concerning current operations and passes on information about any significant event that has occurred within the regiments AO.

The regimental training section also lends support to the COC by providing a journal clerk, whose main focus is to document everything that’s going on whether it’s an important phone call or a specific event. 

Another key-player in the COC’s operations section is the senior watch officer.

“My job as the watch officer is to ensure that all actions are executed properly and information is properly passed to those who need it,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Aaron Smith, senior watch officer for RCT-8’s COC. “As the COC, we are the central hub for getting information from our RCT-8 subordinate commands and reporting it to higher.”

Smith went on to explain that as watch officer, his day-to-day schedule consists of monitoring current operations, all convoys, air traffic, and the overall communications between RCT-8 and its subordinate commands.

With all of these factors playing such a large role in the COC, there’s one aspect that allows all of these sections to stay connected. That aspect is known as the communications section.

“Our communications section keeps up with all of our systems,” Stolzenburg commented.  “They make sure we can talk to others by radio, digitally and by phone.   They basically keep us linked to other units around us.”

While every component of the COC is just as equally important as the next, lately there is one section that has moved to the forefront.

“Our movement and control section is doing some of our most important functions right now. Since things aren’t kinetic and we’ve moved into a responsible drawdown it’s important to know who and what is moving,” stated Stolzenburg.

“My mission involves tracking convoys, and coordinating with the Iraqi Security Forces to ensure that everyone has visibility of what’s going on,” said Sgt. Roger Kerstetter, movement control chief.

Now that U.S. forces are beginning their responsible drawdown out of Iraq, movement control is very important.

“We’re transitioning into a new phase,” said Kerstetter. “When the war started, U.S. forces could come and go as they wanted. Now that Iraqi forces are leading the way, we have to coordinate with them and notify them about how many of our Marines are conducting movements and where they’re going.”

Not only does movement control track RCT-8’s activity throughout Iraq, but it also keeps convoys informed about activity taking place in the areas they cross.  This can help convoys avoid dangers, and assist them if a vehicle breaks down.

With possible dangerous situations lurking around the corner, it is essential for those Marines in the COC to keep a heightened sense of awareness and be prepared for any situation.

“Situational awareness is crucial in the COC, because of its importance to other units,” said Gunnery Sgt. John Cort, a watch chief with RCT-8. “If we’re not aware of all of the events that take place in our area, then we may not be able to properly support a unit in need.”

Like the arteries and veins of the body promote healthy blood flow, the COC acts as an artery to RCT-8, passing information through its various sections and out to other commands, so they receive the vital information they need in order to successfully complete their missions. Without this proper dissemination of information and situational awareness, RCT-8’s mission may not have been as successful as it has been thus far.