In 2001, while serving as a young Lieutenant at Fort Carson, Colorado, I received orders to report to the National Training Center as a “temporary” Observer Controller. To the best of my recollection, I had to report to Fort Irwin for three weeks. The first week was to get certified as an Observer Controller and the last two weeks were to do the job and evaluate my peer.
At the time I was still as Second Lieutenant and boy was I GREEN! I was a young Quartermaster Officer with no experience. Even worse, I looked at the assignment as PUNISHMENT. At the time, I definitely did not feel honored to go. I had a couple of days to get ready for the assignment, and then I got on a plane to fly to California.
This was my first visit to the National Training Center, but definitely not my last. I remember arriving at Fort Irwin for the first time. It was in the middle of nowhere and it was DRY and HOT. Really HOT!
What is an Observer Controller in the Army?
The mission of an OCT is to observe units during training exercises, to control the training unit’s environment and to provide feedback during the after-action review (AAR).
Here’s another definition:
The OCT shadows a unit, serving as a mirror to the platoon’s leadership to see if they have any needs, to see their successes and failures, and to provide feedback to the unit and its leadership about how well they did or didn’t do on a scenario. “We do an after-action review after each scenario or set of exercises, so the unit learns to correct their actions.”
My Experience as an Observer Controller
I definitely didn’t know what to expect or what to do. I reported to my building, got the keys to my living quarters and started my classroom instruction the following day.
The training class was very informative and helpful. It taught me what my duties were and how I should go about doing them.
At the end of different events in the Field Training Exercise, the Observer Controller provides verbal and written feedback to their peer about what went well, what went wrong and what could be improved. I like to think of it as a one-on-one After Action Review.
During my time “in the box” I spent most of time driving around in my HMMWV and observing the training. I took notes, observed what happened, and provided feedback. It was a bit weird providing feedback, since I was so young an inexperienced myself, but I did do my best to be constructive, objective and honest.
I spent most nights sleeping in the desert, on the hood of my HMMWV! By the time the rotation was finished, I had learned a lot. I learned about NTC, how it works and what to expect. I also learned a lot about what a Support Operations Officer should and shouldn’t do. I learned how important Observer Controllers are. I also learned the art of providing honest and objective feedback, while in a tactful manner.
Overall, the experience as an Observer Controller at the National Training Center was very eye opening and rewarding. It definitely prepared my “mindset” for when I went with my unit to the National Training Center. It gave me insights about what to do, what not to do and how to interact with my Observer Controller.
If you get the experience to be an Observer Controller, I would highly recommend it. I believe it will give you a different perspective about leadership and tactics, and help you fine tune your craft.
What do you think? If you’ve been to the National Training Center as an Observer Controller before, I would love to hear about your experience. Leave a comment below to share your thoughts. Have a great day.