‘Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps’ is an imposing title that is entirely suitable for NATO’s premier rapid deployment headquarters. This means ‘HQ ARRC’ is the headquarters that NATO may turn to in its hour of need. If it is believed that a region needs stabilising, this will probably be the organisation that does it.
However maintaining the capability and expertise that ensures this is not an easy task. This is where exercises like ARRCADE Fusion become important. At several points throughout the year the staff at HQ ARRC are tested to breaking point through simulations designed to mirror what could happen if they were deployed. The Exercise Control, or ‘EXCON’, spends three weeks causing chaos within the simulation and the staff of HQ ARRC has no choice but to respond with all the energy they can muster.
Within this maelstrom of activity and acronyms, two former MStrat students found themselves arriving with sleeping bags and, in my case, wholly inadequate waterproof clothing in hand. Daniel Sowik and I had volunteered for this mission determined to understand what the ‘Applied’ in ‘MA Applied Security Strategy’ actually means.
As part of an experiment for HQ ARRC and SSI, we were attached to the G2 Branch’s All Source Cell. The G2 is responsible for the HQ’s intelligence activities and our cell analysed the intelligence gathered. The All-Source Cell’s team of analysts makes assessments that help guide senior level decision-making.
Thrust into this frenetic environment Daniel and I were given our roles. He was working with the G2’s Political Advisor as Political Analyst and I, with a counter extremism role in Whitehall, as the Counter Extremism Subject Matter Expert.
However before we dove into the workings of G2 there was the simple matter of the simulation itself. We read hundreds of pages about it, covering mineral deposit locations to relationships between key individuals. After wading through this information, we began to develop our contributions.
Learning how the HQ worked and improving our situational awareness, we eventually became integrated into the processes driving the ARRC’s activities rather than being just ‘attached’. Daniel and I developed white papers that helped to inform the HQ’s commanders, as well as operating as sounding boards for intelligence assessments. Mostly importantly we gave different perspectives on the situation that were appreciated and taken onboard by senior staff, giving us excellent feedback that helped drive the creation of our products. For Daniel and me, hearing that experienced and respected military personnel were finding value in our output was extremely gratifying.
However this is not the whole story of the ARRC.
My personal reflection often returns to being genuinely impressed by HQ ARRC and its personnel. Seeing people work 15 hours a day, keep their spirits up, and find time for the gym is mind-blowing to my former student self. This was whilst sleeping in tents situated in a cold and constantly wet Cornwall far from home.
But what has really surprised me is my reaction to leaving HQ ARRC. After integrating into and experiencing the simulation I remember the feeling of immediacy and the adrenaline rush from operating in that environment. Suffice it to say, I hope to be back soon.
Al Cole was a student on the Innovation Cohort who now works in the Department of Education on Counter Extremism