Taking it one step at a time
July 3, 2008
By Rachel Young
Make-believe insurgents didn't know what hit them last week in Yakima Training Center as 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment descended upon them for a platoon-level combined arms live fire exercise.
It was 2nd Platoon, C Company's turn on a windy, sweltering June 24.
Dust clouds swirled high enough to obscure the formation of Stryker vehicles as it rolled across the sagebrush dotted landscape.
The support-by-fire element rolled onto a hill top and dismounted. Within seconds, 60mm mortar rounds landed with great thuds on the objective, a ramshackle plywood structure where notional insurgents had been making improvised explosive devices.
Rifle and .50-caliber machine gun fire set the rhythm as the assualt element's Strykers rolled up to the objective.
"Let's go, let's get those guns talking," shouted an NCO behind the line of Soldiers in the support element.
The element shifted fire as Soldiers from the assault element ran from their Strykers to the objective, the wind blowing up dust clouds all around them.
Once inside, one team of Soldiers squatted behind the bullet-riddled remains of a car while others moved tactically around the objective, from one improvised building to the next, clearing each as they went, popping yellow smoke, kicking in doors and shooting down targets.
Private 2 John Murphy knelt near the outer wall of the structure, securing the perimeter while his fellow Patriots finished clearing the area and suffered a simulated casualty.
"It's going really good," Murphy said, as he scanned his sectors. He learned a lot during the exercise from clearing houses and dismounting Strykers to working as a team.
"That's the whole purpose of it," he said with a laugh.
Murphy, who has been a Patriot since October, was completing his first platoon live fire exercise in Yakima. His goal was to learn as much as he could to be the best at his job, he said.
The live fire exercise included both night and day iterations, snipers, AT4s, an un-piloted aerial vehicle, Strykers and mortars. The unit even had the Yakima Training Center Air Medical Detachment fly in and evacuate the simulated casualty.
The casualty was assessed by a medic, strapped to a stretcher and loaded into a Stryker. Chaplain (Capt.) Eric Park climbed aboard the vehicle to provide comfort for the wounded Patriot. The Soldiers outside the objective secured the landing zone and called in the chopper.
Meanwhile, a team of infantrymen secured a cleared building. West Point Cadet Kyle Wolfley was among them, completing a four-week assignment with 2-3 Inf. The cadet was all smiles about his training with the Stryker unit and his first live-fire exercise outside of West Point.
"We got to do the shoot house with live rounds and pop-up targets," Wolfley said. He was nervous at first, but got a lot of help from his squad leader, he said. "We learn some things at West Point, but they are extremely basic and very controlled," he said.
While with 2-3 Inf., Wolfley hoped to learn as much as he could about being a platoon leader and to improve his marksmanship. He also learned a lot about Soldier tasks, to help him be a better platoon leader in the future.
"I'm having a great time," he said.
Within minutes, the familiar sound of pounding rotors told the Soldiers the aircraft was close. Once it landed, the medics aboard assessed the casualty, loaded him into the aircraft and took off again in a swirl of dust.
For 1st Lt. Dan Rand, 2nd platoon leader, the training went well.
"It was a good experience," Rand said. "They threw a lot at us, there was a lot out there, it was definitely a learning experience."
With 22 new Soldiers without deployment experience, including himself, Rand was glad to be able to expose his Soldiers to so many different situations in the exercise. The new Soldiers also benefited from the combat experience of their NCOs, like Sgts. Zachary Clifford and Gabriel Marquez, both team leaders in the platoon.
"It's a lot of learning for them," Clifford said. "It's their first platoon live fire."
Marquez was satisfied with his Soldiers' performance for their first exercise of this caliber, he said. "Everybody took commands correctly," he said.
Both sergeants were looking for progress in their Soldiers and hope that, with practice, they will continue to improve.
"It's good training, we just have to keep doing this stuff," Clifford said.
Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Adam Rocke was relying upon the experience of his Soldiers like Clifford and Marquez who went to Iraq with the unit and are now NCOs training the battalion's new Soldiers.
"They are able to apply their experiences to the training that we're conducting," he said.
The exercise had a little bit of everything, which was the idea, according to Rocke.
"I want the Soldiers to be familiar with what they could be faced with," Rocke said. "I'm using everything that I learned and have seen in 27 months in Iraq, applied to this."
Rachel Young is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian