European edition, Tuesday, July 3, 2007

STUTTGART, Germany — The NATO Special Operations Coordination Center will likely move to Mons, Belgium, this summer and soon begin its first class — battle staff training.

Special ops troops from most of NATO’s 26 nations are expected to work at the center or use it. The center is designed to make sure they are all on the same page when conducting operations together.

The center began forming up in February in Stuttgart. Its director, Rear Adm. William H. McRaven, recently requested it be moved to Mons, home of NATO’s military command.

“We have already scoped out a facility and are working through the procedures and processes,” said McRaven, adding he was confident the move would be approved.

The center would be located within Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe, or SHAPE, in Mons about 35 miles southwest of Brussels. Multinational operations such as NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan are coordinated by SHAPE.

McRaven said placing the center at Mons would enable the incoming staff, who would come from many nations, to more easily deal with issues such as housing, schools and shopping.

The battle-staff training would teach troops from large and small NATO nations to use similar methods for command-and-control, logistics and intelligence, and so on, while conducting operations.

It also would train troops on the computer equipment they’d be using together.

The battle-staff course is like the one at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany. The new course would still be NATO School-certified, but is expected to be less academic and more focused on current needs, said Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Brandt, director of the school’s joint operations department.

“Before it was like, ‘We (special operators) don’t need NATO to do our training for us,’” Brandt said. “But guess what? Now we as NATO go into an area as a coalition.

“If we’re going to be doing global security, we’re going to have to learn to work together — to be interoperable, use the same equipment, speak the same language, have the same standards.”

McRaven said he hoped the center would be fully up to speed by December 2008.

That means about 150 people would be hired, a fuller curriculum would be developed, and a federation of training sites throughout Europe would be formed for disciplines such as mountain warfare, parachute operations, shooting and maneuvering.

He said the U.S. is funding 40 percent of the center, with NATO and individual nations paying for the other 60 percent.

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