FORT LEWIS, Wash. (Army News Service, Feb. 27, 2007) - There might never have been a brigade training event on the scale of the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (SBCT), rehearsal for Iraq that ended Feb. 14. Certainly, one so big never came together so fast.

The keystone of the effort was the Joint Readiness Training Center, the Army's premier combat training facility for light infantry and special forces units.

"We provide training specifically geared toward BCTs (brigade combat teams) that are deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan," said Lt. Col. Shawn Klawunder, chief of the JRTC Plans/Exercise Maneuver Control Group. "For the past two-plus years, all we've been providing is mission rehearsals for what they're going to encounter in theater.

"I don't think it's been on this scale before, in an expansive training area like this one," he said. "We had to look at every inch of the footprint to get everything in here."

The 4th Bde. accelerated its deployment to Iraq as part of the President's surge of troops to Operation Iraqi Freedom, which required a shift in its certification exercise from the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., to Fort Lewis.

The brigade made the formal request for assistance on Jan. 13 and two days later, officers from JRTC Plans/EMC arrived. In meetings with brigade, garrison and I Corps staff, they determined how to support the sudden requirement to accelerate the pre-deployment certification exercise and move it from NTC to Fort Lewis.

The Plans staff compressed eight months of preparation to two weeks. Instead of the readiness center hosting the exercise as normal on Fort Polk, with its scenario scripted around 14 villages built to mirror those in Iraq, facilities would have to move to the brigade at Fort Lewis. To complicate matters, JRTC was starting another rotation.

As the next unit deploying into theater, 4th Brigade took priority. The Army settled contracts in days that would normally take months and resources began pouring in.

"We were pulling equipment out of rotation and line hauling it up here," Klawunder said. "We brought up a 'comms' backbone and a bunch of vehicles to augment the vehicles I Corps provided."

Another challenge came in building the scenario. The Plans/EMC staff was prepared to fold in the goals and priorities of the brigade commander, Col. Jon Lehr, who with his staff was already in Iraq on a pre-deployment site survey.

But when Klawunder and his staff arrived at Fort Lewis, they realized they needed to make more radical adjustments.

"In Fort Polk we have a set scenario, and change it very little from rotation to rotation," Klawunder said.

"We had intended to come here, plop it (down) and stretch it to meet the training area," he said. "But when we drove around, we realized we were going to have to come up with a completely different scenario."

To reproduce the complex environment 4th Bde. Soldiers will encounter in OIF, about 2,500 people streamed into Fort Lewis from all over the continental United States and Hawaii.

"We try to replicate the political, religious, ethnic, tribal diversity that they see in an area," Klawunder said. "We do that with our role players and our cultural role players. In every rotation, we bring in 250 cultural role players who are Americans who have come from Iraq or Afghanistan, depending on what theater (the unit is) deploying to."

With Arabic as their native language, most of the cultural role players spoke no English when interacting with 4th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div., Soldiers.

Five hundred more role players took non-speaking parts in the exercise. These played farmers, school teachers and wives of cultural role players "as well as battlefield friction of people moving around, moving from town to town," said Maj. Chris Hossfeld, senior maneuver planner and one of the first Plans/EMC staff to arrive. "For this rotation we're using about 230 OPFOR (opposition forces)," Klawunder said. "They use the same sort of tactics, techniques and procedures to replicate the threat."

The fulltime OPFOR Soldiers, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 509th (Airborne) Regiment from Fort Polk, are thoroughly trained in al-Qaida's methods, as well as those of Shi'ite militias, Sunni insurgents and Ba'athist rebels.

"Plus, for this rotation, we were granted 300 augmentees - U.S. Army Soldiers serving as Iraqi Army companies, police and border patrol." Klawunder said.

In addition, 430 Soldiers from the newest Stryker brigade, 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (SBCT), participated in the exercise.

Though training events provided key activities in each day, the exercise was written as "free play," meaning that the OPFOR took queues for their activities from the actions and reactions of the brigade. It was intended to be more seamless and realistic.

"In large part, I think NTC has a more scripted scenario that is more set piece," said Klawunder. "JRTC is more free flowing to establish a human terrain."

Observer/controllers from the JRTC operations group - 500 of them - gave periodic "green book after-action reviews," but provided informal feedback down to squad level as the exercise progressed.

"It's a lot better to provide them immediate feedback than to wait for big AARs. The big AARs are to address trends or continuous issues for the unit," Hassfeld said.

The O/Cs also solicited responses from cultural role players to 4th Bde. Soldiers' actions. Their perspective on everything from raids on their villages to conduct of local ceremonies gave brigade leaders a unique window on Iraqi perspectives.

The JRTC personnel were not too busy to take pride and a sense of accomplishment in what they did to support the 4th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. Klawunder estimated that 90 percent of the JRTC officers and senior NCOs he brought to Fort Lewis had recent combat experience.

"It is a very professionally rewarding job," Hassfeld said. "As a ground O/C out there you see the instant connection of a Soldier from something you said, a learning point on a simulated battlefield you know he's going to take with him to Iraq.

"And for us (in Plans/EMC), knowing that you're preparing the brigade and battalion staffs ... to make tactically sound decisions and understand the complexity of the terrain that they may be inserted on in Iraq, that's very professionally rewarding, knowing that you're helping them test their systems, find out what's not working before they learn the hard way in combat."

(Don Kramer writes for the Fort Lewis "Northwest Guardian.")

Page last updated Tue February 27th, 2007 at 08:56