As I sat down next to the prior Tactical Operations Center (TOC) Battle Captain for the first time as his replacement, he drank a Ripit and made scratch marks in the plywood desktop with the tip of a 7.62 bullet.
He first asked how I was doing after my long journey and started to explain my job responsibilities.
Slowly looking down, he lowered the tone of his voice and informed me that if we do not follow the TOC procedures, Rules of Engagement (ROE), we could all end up in Leavenworth. If we made mistakes and lives were lost, we could be convicted of manslaughter or even murder.
This got my mind right as I started my new position as a 1st Lieutenant TOC Battle Captain in Afghanistan in 2012.
A TOC is the coordination hub for intelligence, tactical, response and logistical operations and reporting.
The TOC team is made up of an Officer (Battle Captain), a Non-Commissioned Officer (Battle NCO) and a team of soldiers and airmen that live, breath, and eat combat operations around the clock. To say a combat TOC is a pressure cooker would be an understatement.
Daily activity reports consisted of everything ranging from logistics, to the type and number of IEDs found during an Afghan road construction project. The more significant events, such as an enemy attack, were termed, SIGACTS. These SIGACTS were the most detailed of all the reports because any one of us could be held accountable if we incorrectly responded to them. Additionally, a TOC is required to know all support assets that are available to conduct rapid response, and if there are no assets, a backup plan needs to be in place because failure is never an option.
Higher command was so dependent upon these reports that I once received a direct message to me from a general asking where my report was for his bedtime reading. He wasn’t going to sleep until he got it.
All U.S. military and embassy TOCs are trained to operate at the highest levels of professionalism, have their own standard operating procedures, a chain of Command and laws/regulations to strictly abide by.
U.S. embassy TOCs are operated under the secretary of state, which reports to the president, along with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, followed by The Regional Security Office, a Defensive Systems Commander, and/or the Facility Security Commander, a Tactical Operations Center Team Leader, which is equivalent to the Battle Captain position in an Army TOC.
With all this in mind, I watched the Benghazi hearing with special interest. I thought the questioning would reference the embassy TOC reports as they responded to the requests for help during the four hour attack. But at some point, someone had to order the TOC to not respond or initiate backup support forces.
Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there were no support assets available. This information has been shown to be incorrect by the judicialwatch.org January 12, 2014 report and map provided by Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Randel R. Schmidt, which identified the numerous Naval asset locations within the Gulf and support range on the date of the attack.
Additionally, CIA contractors state they were commanded to “stand down” and the fact that the TOC also didn’t initiate any plans supports their contested statement.
This makes me wonder, who has the power to tell an entire chain of command and TOC staff to stop and not save American lives and go against their sworn mission and duty?
I was one of many U.S. Army 1LT Battle Captains in Afghanistan. All of us were told at times "no assets are available" in our area. In one such case, I simply referred to my TOC Air Force JTAC and made a priority request for outside support.
The F-16 flew from the Gulf to Kandahar and dropped a laser guided bomb onto IED emplacers before they completed what they were doing.
If an Army Lieutenant and Air Force Sergeant did it, why couldn’t they help our American brothers in Benghazi?