Taking the next steps in counter-IED operations
September 16, 2009
With Improved Explosive Devices, or IEDs, now the No. 1 cause of casualties in Afghanistan, the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) is taking a proactive approach to countering the growing threat in the Afghan theater.
"This is the first time we've assembled a team in the States prior to going to theater to do the mission we're doing," explained JIEDDO Command Sgt. Maj. Todd Burnett as he visited the first group of 36 counter-IED Servicemen, which includes Soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors along with Coalition Service members from Australia, Britain and Canada at Fort Irwin, Calif. on Wednesday.
Previously teams were assembled from individual augmentees or IAs once the troops arrived on ground in theater, where they had to learn how to work as a team, Command Sgt. Maj. Burnett said.
"The advantage is instead of them coming in as IA in theater and trying to develop all the mechanics of knowing how this person operates compared to this one, we're doing in a training environment so this whole team will pick up now and they'll go operate together in theater," he said. "For lack of better term we can work out the bugs here instead of having to have them work it out for the first 90 days. We're hoping that the advantage is they can hit the ground running instead of having to go through that learning curve over there."
Throughout the course of the 30-day training, students live together in bay barracks, eat together and train together like they will in theater, he said.
"The other thing is I tell people is there's a big learning curve because many of these people have never operated as joint command and now we're bringing Marines, sailors, airmen and Soldiers together and we're bringing some Coalition in there and we're bringing them all together," he said.
Not only does each organization have different operational procedures, but the language is different as well, he noted, pointing out that among other things Marines call restrooms "the head," while Soldiers call them "latrines."
"They're learning all that and they're able to do in a training environment where people's lives, you know, don't depend on it and develop that trust in each other," he said. "This is a small team operating independently. If there's one weak link in the team, it can cause chaos, and we need to sort that out."
Another advantage to the pre-deployment training is that Service members who have physical injuries or other ailments that might hinder them in theater can be identified and sent back to their units for a replacement that can quickly be infused into the training, he said.
Unlike Iraq where counter-IED teams are assigned to the division level and focus down according to what the division wants, these teams will be different, Command Sgt. Maj. Burnett explained.
"In Afghanistan we're touching every level down to battalion and then teams are still touching down to company, so the teams are much lower down into the food chain and touching every level," he said. "They're touching company, battalion and brigade and with Task Force Paladin, the way they're structured they're touching division and USFORA."
Although the counter-IED team hadn't been assembled when their brigade combat team went through its pre-deployment training, a simulated team explained what a counter-IED team's capabilities are and how they can enable their fight, he said.
"Because we didn't get these guys quick enough, with our capabilities we still filled to ensure they were trained on what they'd have," he said. "That company commander, that battalion commander, that brigade commander feels more comfortable with this asset and knows how to deploy it to the best of his advantage and to the full capability of the asset he has, which is critically important, because the more understanding they have of the asset being employed the more these guys can do for them."
Unlike previous counter-IED operations, where one Soldier was learning his job as another Soldier was leaving, this counter-IED team is going to come in together and leave together, he said.
Because the Armed Services have been very "Iraq-centric" for a long time, it is important to infuse into the training what Service members are going to encounter in Afghanistan, he said.
"It's a different terrain. It's not an urban environment; it's a rural environment," he said. "They've got to know the different techniques and things to look at. It becomes as much this as the visual of it. This is an indicator versus this was an indicator."
The training has to focus on Afghanistan, and because its environment can't be replicated except at the National Training Center and Twenty-nine Palms, the focus can't be on the mountains, he said.
"We've got to infuse situations they're going to be in. We've got to limit their ability to go left and right, because in Iraq it's easy to break contact. That's not able to be done in Afghanistan," he said. "You've got to infuse it into the training base and you've got to drive that home at every opportunity that arises."
In the first class to go through this level of counter-IED training, Command Sgt. Maj. Burnett said he believes the basics are being taught and having Service members together during their training is a huge benefit.
"I think after this one and with their critiques and their AARs and feedback they're doing regularly, we can pull all that together and before they leave here elaborate, and say these are the classes ya'll think should stay, these are the ones ya'll think should go and these are the ones that are on the bubble," he said. "A lot of things we have infused into this training have come from OEF and Task Force Paladin, so we can kind of told them, what do you think they need to know and now we'll redefine it and shoot it back to them."
How this team performs in theater will be carefully monitored, because it is going to help redefine the future teams, he explained.
"I'll go over there regularly and see these teams, because nothing's better than face-to-face and I'll go over and see them and say, 'Now that you're here, give me the top five things you'd say if I'd known this before I came I would have done this,'" he said.