Brant Guillory, 7 May 2019
Brant Guillory: The “Sterrett Games” at the Origins War College seem to keep growing in popularity. Aside from the nomenclature, what can you tell us about the origins of these ‘exercises’?
Dr James Sterrett: I struggled to figure out how to present a paper at the Origins War College that would explain how CGSC uses games for military education. No approach worked well until I realized that the key was to stop talking about how the exercises worked – and instead to run an exercise.
BG: If I’m a new participant to this entire process, what should I expect when I walk in the door for one of these games?
JS: You’ll get a job! Well, at any rate, a job on a staff for the duration of the event. Jobs include roles such as the commander, the operations officer, and the intel officer. We’ll teach you the basics of that job, and then provide an overview of the US Army’s planning process. Then you start to do your job: you and the others on your staff use the planning process to create a plan for the battle. Once the plan is complete, or time runs short for planning, we transition to fighting the battle. At the end, we run a short After Action Review, in which we try to point out things that were done well (or poorly), and to discuss some of the learning points that might have been brought out if this were run at CGSC.
This article originally ran in Battles! Magazine before Origins 2011, to promote the Command Post Exercise events that year. Guess what – Command Post Exercises are back at Origins this year, and this interview really does an excellent job of setting the stage for what happens there.
BG: When you’re working out the design of the exercises – especially the learning process of the first 30 minutes or so – how do you decide what goes into the game and what gets left out?
JS: The point is to give people a sense of how exercises work and how a staff functions. The key constraints are time and inexperience: we have very little time to teach people (CGSC spends over a month on the planning process alone!), and we have to assume that the players have never done anything like this before.
Therefore, we focus only on the bare essentials, and we expect to do a lot of coaching. That said, players often come back again and again, and it’s great to watch repeat players get better and better with practice.
BG: What are some of the takeaways that participants should expect when joining the fun in the “Sterrett Games” at the Origins War College?
JS: Three things. First, you should come away with a much better idea of why a military staff exists, what it does, and how it functions. Second, you should better understand how an off-the-shelf game can be used to drive training and education that’s useful in the real world. Third, you’re likely to have a lot of fun – “hard fun”, to quote a previous participant. Can I add a fourth? Fourth, you may find that the logic of the planning process we teach will help you in playing your other games as well.
BG: What do you see for the future of these games at the Origins War College? Any intention to branch them out beyond Origins?
[Ed Note: in the past, these games had been hosted in the Origins War College, but have now been moved to the Armchair Dragoons Wargaming HQ)
JS: From the Army’s perspective, these games serve several purposes: 1) To inform both the general public, and game designers, about how a staff functions; and 2) To inform both the general public, and game designers, how CGSC runs exercises. Ideally, this means a better-informed citizenry, and game designers better able to make games that suit our training & education needs. So I’m hoping these continue at Origins, and continue to grow! This year, in addition to running Army exercises, there are plans to run a Navy exercise and an Air Force exercise. I’ve volunteered to assist with both, and hope to learn a lot about our sister services in the process.
We have every intention of branching out beyond Origins, but funding is a limitation. The CGSC Simulations Division sometimes runs these games in the Kansas City area (CGSC is at Fort Leavenworth, near Kansas City).
BG: What would we have asked if we knew what to ask you?
JS: Why did you pick the games you intend to use?
Flashpoint: Germany: A perennial choice, its timescale works very well for these exercises. The game shows tactical detail, but runs on 20 to 30 minute turns. As a result, players have to issue overall guidance instead of micromanaging: exactly the kind of mindset a staff needs to have. The long turns also mean it’s logical to let the staff think about the results of the turn a bit before the next turn is run.
[Ed Note: Flashpoint Campaigns is the newer expanded version of the original Flashpoint: Germany)
Command Ops: Battles from the Bulge: Panther’s outstanding AI means that, as with Flashpoint: Germany, the players can see more tactical detail than they should touch. However, with events unfolding in continuous time, and command delay set to the maximum level, BFTB is a bigger challenge. Like Flashpoint: Germany, Panther’s games have been mainstays of these exercises. [Ed note: Decisive Action is not being used at Origins 2019]
Decisive Action: We use this at CGSC for our division exercises. Make no mistake: this is the graduate-level exercise of the lot, requiring the players to plan and synchronize recon, helicopters, artillery, fixed-wing air, maneuver forces, and logistics in a complex mobile battle. We’re planning to provide extra guidance this year on “what right looks like”, by giving players some templates on how a typical operation might be organized. [Ed note: Decisive Action is not being used at Origins 2019]
BG: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Let’s hope we can double the number of participants this summer!
Ed Note: “Warfare Affair” is the name of Brant’s column in Battles! Magazine. These videos are from Origins 2011.