Source: The Sun
The deafening boom of an improvised explosive device in a truck injures U.S. Army soldiers and Afghani civilians.
machinegunner intermittently fires deadly bursts from a second- story
window. People with grotesque wounds writhe in pain on the street.
Uninjured village residents add to the confusion by screaming and
running as soldiers seek a clear shot.
Just a two-hour drive from the citrus groves of the San
Bernardino Valley are rust-toned rocks and bone-dry mountains and hills
that look like Afghanistan.
And that's just the way the U.S. Army wants it.
a mock battle in the village of Shar-e Tiefort, a soldier calls out for
more help while responded to a simulated attack. (Rick Sforza / Staff
Photographer)700 soldiers are engaged in the realistic
mock battle scenarios that the National Training Center at Fort Irwin
has been providing for more than 30 years.
But this group is making history. When they deploy to Afganistan
in the coming months, they'll have a very different mission, with a
different chain of command.
They will be folded into small teams, primarily with the
Army's elite Green Berets, working to help residents of small, remote
villages learn how to defend themselves against the Taliban, said
Special Forces Capt. Jake Snyder.
It's a new role for rank-and-file troops, who will help fill
out the ranks of the military's thinning Special Forces, even as
combined NATO forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan in late 2014.
Of the 12,000 active-duty personnel in the United States
Special Operations Command, about 9,000 are deployed to Afghanistan,
leaving only 3,000 to deploy to missions all around the world, said
Kenneth McGraw, a spokesman for the command.
Regular Army soldiers are needed, "because we are running out of Green Berets," Snyder said.
War on terrorism changes battle training
The training prepared for the Fort Stewart soldiers "is a very unique
situation," said Snyder, who was one of five officers
observing a scenario in January from the Third Special Forces Group out
of Fort Bragg, N.C.
It's part of the changing face of battle training at Fort Irwin -
from force-on-force scenarios such as full-on tank-against-tank warfare
to foot soldier scenarios, or counterinsurgency (COIN).
These soldiers at the National Training Center will be
primarily helping Green Berets with Village-Stabilization Operations
(VSO), the strategy of working with and living among residents of remote
Afghani villages to help them develop their own security force to
combat the Taliban.
Initially, when entering a village, the American forces will
provide stability with their own firepower - if needed to "show them we
mean business," he said.
But the ultimate goal is to train tribal members to become
become their own defenders and get them certified as members of the
Afghani National Police.
"The idea is to work ourselves out of a job," he said.
As one village is stabilized, Green Berets will move onto the next.
But the regular army soldiers will stay behind, to prevent the forward progress "from collapsing," Snyder said.
Whittier College Political Science Professor Fred Bergerson -
who brought some of his students to a January training scenario at Fort
Irwin - said he is "reluctantly skeptical" about the potential
effectiveness of this model.
An intelligence officer with
in the village of Shar-e Tiefort carry out daily activities designed to
keep them in character. The role players interact with soldiers, which
add to the sense of realism for soldiers being trained. (Rick Sforza /
Staff Photographer)the Army's 1st Cavalry Division
during the Vietnam War, Bergerson has concerns about regular infantry
soldiers, many of them very young, being left alone with virtually no
knowledge of the language spoken in the villages.
In that position, and without being well-versed in customs of the
region, the soldiers will be dangerously dependent on the competence and
the political allegiance of their interpreter, he said.
Realistic training save lives in combat
Army officials say the training scenarios at Fort Irwin are
designed to save lives by transforming a huge training center into an
Afghani village ...
It's a sunny, peaceful winter day in Shar-e Tiefort, one of 13 mock Afghani villages at the U.S.
U.S. Army Specialist Jesus Hernandez, kneeling, and Douglas Yasenovsky,
act out their parts as victims of an Improvised Explosive Device, or
IED, at the beginning of a mock battle.
(Rick Sforza / Staff Photographer)Army National Training Center, about 30 miles west of Barstow.
From a rooftop vantage point, one can see some of the 100 actors in the village, dressed in authentic Afghani garb.
A few are engaged in an competitive game of soccer. There are several street vendors selling fruit, vegetables and other items.
On this day, several small teams of soldiers from Fort
Stewart, Ga. will be traversing this street, which the Army calls a
In about 100 yards, trainers have crammed "the extraordinary,
the worst scenarios," said Capt. Eli Rivera, who is responsible for the
safety and the training strategy of these Aghanistan-bound troops.
The idea is to have soldiers experience the sights and sounds of combat.
On this January day, six simulated Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have been positioned at numerous points along the lane.
There are also a Vehicle Borne IEDs (VBIED), a .30-caliber
machinegun in a second story window, and a rocket-propelled grenade
(RPG) ready to launch from a bridge.
There is also a sniper on a barren, rocky hill overlooking the
town and two gunman poised to fire their rifles as they run along the
street, Rivera said.
Neither the sniper nor the running gunmen were activiated on a recent visit by a team from The Sun.
Before leaving for this training, Spc. Brandon Garza, 20, of
Colorado Springs, Colo., said his wife told him, "`It's okay if you
`die' here, but don't you dare die in Afghanistan."'
Borrowing from Hollywood
The Army hires outside firms to make the combat seem as
realistic as possible. They provide the environment, using their
experience in the movie business, or some other aspect of the
Steve Jeffries, 50, of Riverside, managed the pyrotechnics for this day.
A 26-year veteran of fireworks maker of Pyro Spectaculars Inc.
in Rialto, Jeffries now works out of the Las Vegas branch of Pyritz
A model rocket enthusiast in his youth, Jeffries makes the
mock RPGs seem realistic by using two model rocket engines to speed its
journey from a bridge to a building, guided by a thin wire.
Upon impact, an operator located on a rooftop structure, fires
a charge, which can be inside a barrel beside the street or attached to
a wall of the target building.
The fiery IED explosions, which can be physically felt, go off on cue, leaving bodies scattered throughout the lane.
In the chaos of the explosion's aftermath, soldiers take a defensive stance to return fire and protect casualties.
As in a Hollywood set, complete with script, dazzling
pyrotechnics and role players in makeup and costumes, the scene is alive
with heart-pounding action.
Combat trainers want it that way.
A soldier has been blown from the Humvee, his face torn apart
with a gaping wound, his left arm a bloody stump. He and others are
carried inside a nearby building that will serve as a casualty
The part of the soldier is played by Doug Yasenovsky, a
23-year-old military role player, who is hired to bring grim realism to
Meanwhile, on the side of the lane, an Afghani local, played
by civilian role player, Christopher Reed, 22, of Hesperia, writhes in
pain with half his face blown away.
Soldiers in training must think quickly to assess casualties and react accordingly.
The gruesome mayhem is the handiwork of professional makeup
artist and sculptor Kim Reyes, who excels at military and wartime
Reyes, who is from the Washington area, has her FDA-approved
makeup shipped to Fort Irwin, where she makes up from 2 to 20
"casualties" each day during a rotation.
"It depends on what the Army wants that day and the number of scenarios," she says.
The casualty role players have had to work in 130-degree heat, according to Reyes.
"The goal is to provide the most realistic training," Rivera said.
In: Other News
Tags: Fort, irwin, training, special forces, new, soldier, national guard
Location: Fort Irwin, California, United States (load item map)
Marked as: approved
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