Soldiers Are the O.G. Remote Workers
Utah National Guard members can work any time, from any place
Americans are in a deep debate about the prudence of remote work. Elon Musk and Jamie Dimon have made headlines by taking a strong stand against their workers staying home. Meanwhile, the New York Fed predicts that remote work is here to stay and NPR reports that many workers consider the option of working remotely “non-negotiable.”
National Guard Soldiers chuckle at the discussion. They’ve been working remotely for years — call it, “remote extreme.”
They are very good at it.
“We can operate anywhere as long as we know what the mission is and have clear guidance from the commander,” said Sgt, Maj. Skyler O’Bannon. He is the operations sergeant major for the 625th Military Police Battalion, part of the 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB), Utah National Guard.
The MEB is a unit designed to command and control forces from multiple branches, but especially organizations that conduct tasks enabling support area operations.
“We can operate anywhere as long as we know what the mission is…
The key phrase there is “support area.” That means the MEB Soldiers are trained and ready to deploy anywhere to support the fighting force.
An MEB can command and control up to 5000 Soldiers in a variety of units, but that total can be scaled down based on mission requirements. Often, when the 204th deploys for training or actual operations, it will take between 200 and 500 Soldiers.
They are good because they practice and plan.
“The logistics of moving people and stuff around takes a ton of planning,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 James Bell, the brigade property account officer.
“Consider you have to feed every Soldier. They need a place to sleep, a place to shower. It’s a pretty significant endeavor to get to where we need to go and then be effective once we get there.”
Soldiers can move so quickly because of how the brigade is organized. Each Soldier belongs to a distinct team or staff section and each knows their role.
Capt. Steve Hetman, an engineering officer with the 204th, leads a group of Soldiers who manage operations once the MEB is on the ground.
“These Soldiers are determined, focused, and innovative,” he said.
“The brigade headquarters is a modular structure, meaning that our area operations cell can operate without the rest of the headquarters staff.”
Similarly, staff sections can be reduced or augmented to meet mission requirements.
Sections operate in the mobile command post. It’s basically a remote office. It’s far away, and it can move.
“It’s important that we set up a space properly so we can get to work communicating,” said Hetman.
“We have a complex of tents that creates a workspace to enable us to process information.”
“These Soldiers are determined, focused, and innovative.
That information is analyzed by staff and delivered to a commander so he can make a decision.
Staff sections perform functions like military intelligence gathering and analysis, artillery, legal advising, personnel, logistics, air support, current operations, and planning.
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During the most extreme operations, MEB personnel will organize 24-hour shifts so the command post never sleeps.
“We gather information in real time and process it very quickly,” said Hetman. “If our position is compromised, then we can move out rapidly and resume operations in a new location.”
They call the domed tents “Airbeams.” An air compressor fills the main arches that provide the domed support. They come in a variety of sizes, the largest of which is about 1400 square feet. Soldiers then run power, lights, and network cables (often more than 1000 feet) throughout the tents, and the climate can be controlled with a mobile HVAC system.
O’Bannon has experience getting the tents all set up. It takes a dozen Soldiers a couple of hours to get the structures in place.
When it’s time to move, Soldiers tear it all down and relocate. They call it, “jumping.”
“If we get the call to move our operations, we can start the jump within 15 minutes and be set up within an hour,” said Hetman.
ƒThe MEB is able to jump the command post multiple times a day without sacrificing operational effectiveness.
As the property account officer, Bell is in charge of making sure the brigade has the equipment it needs to operate.
Besides the tents and the personnel, that includes around 2000 individual items worth around $30M– for the headquarters element alone.
“These are items the Army says we need in order to do our job,” said Bell.
And they need to be accounted for anytime the brigade moves.
“Not all of them come on every mission, but we make sure we have what the mission requires,” he said.
Bell relies on a document called the “Military Table of Organization and Equipment” (MTOE).
“The MTOE authorizes us to be the brigade we are,” he said. “It tells us how many personnel, in each rank and duty position, along with the equipment we are allotted and what those Soldiers are to do with that equipment. It is absolute.”
The tents that form the mobile workspace, along with the network equipment, computers, screens, and radios that go in them are on the MTOE. So are the generators that supply the power and the vehicles that get them to nearly any location they would be called to go.
Everything is designed to break down into components to make the brigade agile and lethal.
The enterprise is organized toward concentrating combat power and giving the commander decisive advantages.
“It can look like organized chaos,” said O’Bannon. “Sometimes it doesn’t look pretty, but we’re getting the job done because every Soldier knows their piece of the puzzle.”
So while many business leaders and employees are deciding whether they prefer to work from home or in the office, the Soldiers of the 204th are getting ready to go to battle.
They don’t know where or when, but it won’t be from home or the office.