NIE 'Trail Bosses' Help Soldiers Better Understand Equipment

Known as "trail bosses," this group of officers helps ensure successful execution of the massive, biannual Network Integration Exercise that takes place here at Fort Bliss, Texas, and at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

The trail bosses serve as a link between the 3,800 Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, and the dozens of government and industry organizations that provide communications systems for the brigade to evaluate.

"We translate the acquisition lingo and network diagrams and engineering design into 'operational speak'," said Lt. Col. Keith Taylor, who leads the trail bosses assigned to the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, System of Systems Engineering and Integration, or SoSE&I, directorate.

"We explain the operational intent of the systems being evaluated and make sure the unit has the proper equipment and training to conduct the NIE mission along with its other tasks."

The trail bosses are one of numerous concepts and lessons-learned from the Network Integration Exercise, commonly referred to as NIE, now being applied to the fielding of Capability Set 13, or CS 13, the Army's first fully-integrated, soldier-vetted package of network equipment to emerge from the NIE process.

At the same time, soldier training, vehicle integration, system check-outs and other preparations are underway here for this spring's NIE 13.2. The Army is fielding and training select brigade combat teams, or BCTs, with CS 13 as they prepare for deployment to Afghanistan.

NIE remains a key venue for the Army to conduct soldier-driven assessments of new technologies. Its role as a proving ground for integration, fielding and training methods has also demonstrated its value as CS 13 reaches the field.

Several members of the System of Systems Engineering and Integration directorate workforce who honed their skills at NIE have even been tapped to support delivery of CS 13 in theater. There, they will apply NIE lessons-learned as they integrate mine-resistant, ambush-protected, All-Terrain Vehicles, known as MRAP AT-Vs, and MaxxPro vehicles with components of the capability set.

"The NIEs challenged us to deliver network-vehicle configurations that had never been tried before, and to do it on a very tight timeline," said Col. Gail Washington, with SoSE&I. "The integration expertise of this workforce continues to be a great asset to the Army."

Two brigade combat teams of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), will rely on the mobile communications provided by CS 13 when they deploy to Afghanistan later this year to serve as security forces advise and assist teams supporting the drawdown of U.S. forces.

Each BCT receiving CS 13 has been assigned a trail boss to oversee the effort. The fielding of CS 13 to 10th Mountain marked the first time the Army delivered a complete package of network technologies that was integrated up front, rather than providing each system independently.

"This is the way the Army needs to conduct business for this type of fielding," said Lt. Col. Bill Venable, the trail boss assigned to the 4th BCT, 10th Mountain Division, at Fort Polk, La. "Synchronizing equipment deliveries, vehicle touches, training and other elements makes sense for communications systems that are integrated across the BCT, and helps reduce the burden on the unit operating in a time-constrained environment."

That approach is a direct reflection of what the acquisition community has learned from NIE, said Capt. Brent Warren, who served in 2nd Bde., 1st AD for three former NIEs before becoming a trail boss.

"From a unit perspective, the trail bosses act as a force multiplier, now more than they ever, because they are integrated with the unit," Warren said. "They can translate what's going on with their equipment, what needs to happen with their equipment, where it needs to be and why it needs to get there."

As the NIEs have evolved with each iteration, the trail bosses have come to serve as essentially the third field-grade officer for each battalion, ensuring the equipment is in place to support their missions and milestones, and providing subject matter expertise on the numerous systems the units are asked to evaluate, said Maj. Alexander Gonzales, another SoSE&I trail boss.

"Most of us interact with our [executive officers] ten times a day via emails and telephone calls," Gonzales said. "During the NIE itself, the majority of us operate right in their battalion footprint, so we're knee-deep with them."

This article was published earlier by Aerospace & Defense News at