Taking Freedom Town
Squad leader Pfc. Anthony Baker and his interpreter, Saad Alkhafaji, meet with the mayor of Freedom Town April 30, 2010, to gather intelligence on a bomb maker and other enemy activity in the training village at Fort Sill, Okla.

FORT SILL, Okla.--More than 200 basic combat training Soldiers took another step toward combat readiness and graduation completing a situational training exercise freeing a town of oppressive enemy combatants here April 30.

In squads of 12-15 members, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery Soldiers applied lessons learned from their previous six weeks of training. With actual combat often coming early in a Soldier's career, Soldiers exercised room clearing, detainee operations, searches, squad movements, and movement to and reaction to enemy contact.

"We developed this scenario to be as accurate as the current battlefield situations we encounter," said 1st Sgt. Brian Shotton, D Battery, 1st-19th FA. "The intent here was to put into practice everything they've been training on and see how they would react."

Receiving final instructions from their commander, a squad formed up and began to enter Freedom Town.

Acting on intelligence gathered from a previous operation, the Soldiers objective was to capture an improvised explosive device maker or gather intelligence that would lead them to the bomb builder.

Nearing the village, squad leader Pfc. Anthony Baker and his interpreter, Saad Alkhafaji, met the mayor who briefed the two men on the bad people who had entered his town and were teaching others to do destructive things.

"Talking with Iraqi people made the scenario that much more realistic, because I really had to focus on what they were saying and how they spoke," said Baker. "But, my interpreter helped me out, and we got the information we needed."

Baker's Soldiers then split into two teams and began to talk with the civilians to assess whether or not they might be a threat. Thanks to a lead from the mayor, Baker headed to the town's barber, the only remaining businessman in town and a trusted man who may have some useful information.

The pleasant temperatures and clearing skies mirrored the quiet of the Iraqi hamlet. However, the day's tranquility shattered in a resounding thump as an explosion rocked the small buildings sending Soldiers scurrying for cover as small arms fire opened up from several nearby structures.

Squad members returned fire pinning down enemy combatants and covering other Soldiers who leap-frogged from one covered position to the next to flank the enemy and clear the buildings.
All actions were taken under the direction of team leaders and the overall squad leader. Spc. Charles Burke, 1st platoon, 2nd squad leader, came into the Army with a resume full of management and supervisory experience, but said all that was quite different from the chaos that ensued at Freedom Town.

"I was focused on trying to keep my squad calm and moving in the right direction," he said. "The hard parts are getting Soldiers to do what they are supposed to do and stay together; however, for the most part, that's what we did."

Like Bakers team, Burke's squad quelled the enemy combatants and secured each building. Even so, one hidden combatant emerged making a dash for the forest surrounding the community.

Burke's Soldiers pursued and captured the enemy combatant before she made it into the woods. The detainee gave up intelligence on the IED maker and where they would find him.

Normally, the chaotic situation might end there, however, that was not the case for these were BCT Soldiers learning and developing techniques that may soon save lives on the battlefield.

Taking the prisoner to the extraction point for transport back to their forward operating base, Burke's squad mates made a grave mistake. The Soldiers put their prisoner down next to the cache of weapons they had just collected. Ignored for a moment, the prisoner picked up a weapon and began firing at the Soldiers from within their security formation until a squad member silenced the enemy for good.

"You just have to stay on top of the little details," said Burke emphatically.

One by one, each squad cleared the buildings, subdued or killed enemy combatants and confiscated weapons caches. Prisoner questioning revealed the bomb maker got away during the initial firefight, but each squad learned of the bomb maker's destination.

All looked forward to another opportunity to practice their combat craft, but for now it was time to return to base, grab some chow, rest and refit. The following day, these Soldiers were headed to the city -- Liberty City in this case and a showdown with an IED maker.

Page last updated Thu May 13th, 2010 at 16:47