Magazine article National Defense

Fog of War: Army Strives for Training That Resembles Combat

Magazine article National Defense

Fog of War: Army Strives for Training That Resembles Combat

Article excerpt

FORT IRWIN, Calif. -- Combat rehearsals that replicate conditions in Iraq provide valuable training for troops who have yet to experience the real war. But these training drills don't have much new to offer to combat veterans, according to soldiers participating in a recent exercise here. The Army has spent millions of dollars during the past two years revamping its training facilities to turn them into realistic replicas of the battlefield. These efforts have paid off for troops such as those from the 1st Platoon, A Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment.

Several soldiers in the platoon who already have served tours in Iraq, however, find that the training cannot recreate the stress level experienced in actual operations. A simulated mortar attack, for example, does not even come close to the acute anxiety of real war, says Cpl. Seth Toy, whose squad is attacked in such a manner one night while sleeping outside its Stryker combat vehicle during the training rotation. The instinct to run from simulated munitions doesn't come to troops such as Toy who already has served in Iraq.

But soldiers who have been trained here before cannot help but notice how much the training environment has changed. In 2003, the brigade came through for an exercise, but it was based on a Cold War scenario that did not prepare the unit at all for what it encountered in Iraq later that November, says Capt. Duane Patin, the battalions acting executive officer.

This time around, the brigade encounters scenarios ripped from news headlines, ranging from diplomatic negotiations with village leaders and hostage rescue operations to secular uprisings and counter-insurgent operations.

Here, at the National Training Center, commanders anticipate that most of the training in the foreseeable future will focus on urban combat.

"My number one priority here at National Training Center is a large MOUT [military operations on urbanized terrain] facility," says Brig. Gen. Robert Cone, the commanding general of Fort Irwin and NTC.

Spread out across the training center's 1,100 square miles are 12 towns made of numerous shipping containers, with doors and windows, and wooden outbuildings. The largest town, Tiefort City--known as Medina Jabal during training rotations--has 100 such structures.

"All the units that train here say, 'This is great, but we didn't find any in Iraq that was that small,'" says Cone. "You need to build us a place that can stress us as a brigade."

To that end, the center is planning to add 200 new buildings to the town that will extend its boundaries across the desert valley to represent a large Middle Eastern city. The buildings will have steel frames with reconfigurable interiors and will resemble infrastructures such as consulates, palaces and even a university.

"That will give us capability to do a brigade-level MOUT operation," says Col. David Hogg, commander of the NTC operations.

The center has received $12 million to begin the two-year project, and commanders say they will continue working on additional funding.

Occupying a space larger than the state of Rhode Island, the National Training Center is often the last stop before troops deploy. Though it is one of the largest such facilities in the country, leaders plan to expand the property not only to add more fidelity and options to training scenarios but also to anticipate the growing need for larger operating areas for units such as the Stryker brigades, which are covering wide swaths of battle space in Iraq.

"When you realize that we have brigades over there that are dealing with 5,000 square miles and I've only got 1,000, this place has got to be cutting edge. We've got to stretch it out a little bit," says Cone.

For the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division rotation, planners faced a challenge of how to extend the exercise beyond the confines of its property. …

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