For Fort Lewis Soldiers, testing helps 'keep up the fire'
April 17, 2009
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Light years away from sequential field problems with linear training scenarios, the Manchus tested all systems at once on Fort Lewis' Range 74 and Regenburg mock city for the past two weeks.
Three-day, round-the-clock training events focused on the platoons, but simultaneously tested staffs at all levels across 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment.
"We're trying to make that 72-hour window as challenging as possible for everybody," said Lt. Col. Mark Bieger, 4-9 Inf. comm- ander, "to stress the platoon, the company and the battalion, to give them as much of a workout as possible."
While platoons conducted missions, they sent reports to company CPs, which collected reports and forwarded information to the battalion tactical operations center.
Battalion planners, Capt. Tom Williams and Capt. Jay Ross, worked with a compressed training window, based on early deployment schedules announced by DA for 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
The multi-echelon exercise also created a realism and urgency the Manchus might not otherwise have experienced.
"There are not too many assets that are not available to the platoon leader and platoon sergeant on this exercise," Bieger said. "We're trying to pile it all on them for them to at least get a feel for their capabilities."
Bieger said "Manchu Thunder" was the battalion's final test before the 4th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. mission readiness exercise at Fort Polk, La., this summer.
"All company systems from their CP down to their platoons in sector are being stressed and being worked at that time," said Capt. Dan Lowe, the 4-9 Inf. operations officer. "It's not the platoon goes out, comes back and waits till the next mission. Within that 72 hours, they'll do one day of the live fire ... then two days of the (external evaluation) portion, key leader engagements, improvised explosive devices, enemy attacks, everything that can happen to them out in sector."
On April 6, 1st Platoon of Commanche Company conducted leaders' reconnaissance and rehearsals in preparation for assaulting an objective on Range 74 - a high-value target well insulated with family members and bodyguards. At the same time, 2nd and 3rd platoons moved into Regenburg, conducting searches and interacting with community leaders.
Each decision leaders made affected the direction of the exercise. Platoon leaders who insulted village mukhtars found it difficult to deal with distrustful Iraqi Police and Army counterparts. Others with more cultural savvy gained the respect of civic and religious leaders and continued their missions with cooperative Iraqi forces.
Third Platoon Leader 1st Lt. Andrew Locke sat in the home of a sheikh, finding himself answering for the transgressions of previous American units.
"U.S. forces always tell us they're going to help build a well and they never do," said the religious leader through an interpreter.
"When was the last time somebody from Public Works or anyone discussing water was here'" Locke asked.
The discussion about water for the village was a key for the sheikh, who granted Locke the permission for his platoon to continue its search of the village.
"The whole time it's a 'choose-your-own-adventure,'" Lowe said, "leading men to the next objective, speaking with Arabic speakers who have information on key enemy in the area."
"We have developed a scenario that is completely in play," said Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Mulkey, 4-9 Inf. intelligence NCO-in charge. "The information is there."
Mulkey and his boss, 1st Lt. Bill Watts, had peppered the village with native Arabic speakers and obtained interpreters from the Fort Lewis Language Center. Soldiers heard as much Arabic in the streets as English.
"These role players, Arabic speakers, performed roles as mayor, local leaders, Iraqi forces," Bieger said. "We've really tried to work that system where the platoon leader is not talking to the individual he's working with. He's working through the interpreter, trying to figure out how that works. It's been awesome. The role players have been very, very good. Most are naturalized citizens who have done interpreter duties over there."
It was a challenging day for many of the Manchus in the village. Small unit leaders learned quickly to cope with the culture and language.
"It provides a level of confusion," said Capt. Andrew Lembke, the Commanche Company commander. "This is the first time, for example, (Locke) ever had to use an Arabic interpreter. They really haven't gotten any cultural training yet."
Team Leader Sgt. Raul Adams in 2nd Squad, 1st Plt. compared the event to his early days in the Army.
"When I was a joe, I think I had a good 2 1/2 years to train up on what we needed to know before we deployed, but these guys are ... going to deploy in three to four months. They'll learn quick."
One of his Soldiers, Pvt. 2 Tyler Donoho, a 10-month veteran in the battalion, recounted the things he had learned that morning.
"They pretty much don't do anything you say," he said of the villagers, "I learned to keep my eyes open and now I know 'imshee (walk).'"
First Sgt. Ben Hanner, a veteran of three Middle Eastern tours, said C Company Soldiers did well for their lack of experience.
"The three days are just a start," Hanner said. "It's going to take time. They'll do it some more at Joint Readiness Training Center, and more with some backyard field problems. But no amount of training will ever prepare you for the first day you step foot in an Iraqi town or city and you actually start interacting with the locals."
With the other two platoons C Company engaged in the village nearby, 1st Platoon Leader 1st Lt. Mark Haynes and his platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Daniel Garza, completed their reconnaissance of the objective on Range 74 where a high-value individual resided.
The threat of deep-buried improvised explosive devices forced the platoon to dismount from their Strykers and maneuver hundreds of meters on foot, using ridges and brush to mask their exhausting three-to-five-second rushes.
"The S-2 shop spent (more than) a month around the HVI making it as realistic as possible," Bieger said. "A good operations order was given for the tactical scenario. An HVI has four to eight close personal guards and relatives who can come reinforce quickly with trucks and heavy weapons. He's been able to seed the ground with deep-buried IEDs."
Each platoon leader solved differently the problems with the approach to the objective.
"Range control has given us a lot of flexibility ... as far as where to begin moving to the objective," Bieger said. "Then as they engage the targets, it's not a narrow range fan. They can really come at it from a couple different directions. Every platoon has been different. We can employ every weapon system organic to the platoon with the addition of the company mortars."
The platoon made its way to the last ridge, short of the objective. Garza set up support-by-fire positions for automatic weapons, then signaled Sgt. Christopher Mason to lead his assault squad to the objective. The Manchus achieved surprise through speed and stealth; they breached the door quickly and were inside the compound, killing the HVI in a brief, violent fire fight.
The supporting squad bounded in and Haynes placed teams on the rooftops to brace for a counter attack. Intelligence, Garza said, put "technical" vehicles (armed civilian trucks) with weapons in the immediate area. A .50 caliber machine gun set up in time to stop one in its tracks.
Teams conducted rapid site exploitation, looking for anything of intelligence value, while buddies carried a friendly casualty to the door of the compound and out to a waiting Stryker. Haynes had called his vehicles forward as his men secured the site.
"Very well done on the assault," said Assistant Operations Officer Williams, who did the initial planning of the training.
After a hot wash evaluation, Bieger released the platoon to rest briefly.
"Overall, the assault went pretty well," Mason said, then left to prepare his squad for the live-fire iteration 90 minutes later.
The fall deployment will be the second in support of Operation Iraq Freedom for the Manchus, a battalion with a distinguished regimental heritage. The 9th Infantry Regiment dates back to the turn of the 19th century and the battalion to the beginning of the Civil War.
The 4-9 Inf. landed at Normandy and fought its way across France and Belgium in World War II into the Rhineland. The battalion colors also carry battle streamers from the Korean War and Vietnam.
The Manchus earned their nickname in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion, when the regiment was ordered to take the walled city of Tientsin from nationalist Chinese rebels, the Boxers.
The dying words of Colonel Emerson Liscum, the regimental commander, gave them their motto to this day - "Keep Up The Fire."
Don Kramer is a reporter with Fort Lewis'Northwest Guardian.