FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Walking down the single sun-baked street, with the sounds of chickens and goats in a nearby pen and the voices of local Iraqis in muted conversation, mud-daubed buildings with sheet metal roofs crowd the each side of the small path, a visitor would find it difficult to tell the difference between this village and any other in Iraq, if it wasn't for the massive pine forest surrounding the village and the oppressive Fort Bragg humidity.

Created by the training group Reservoir International, this village, nestled in the forests surrounding Fort Bragg, is the setting for a unique training experience for 82nd Airborne Division Paratroopers who require a very specialized experience to hone their skills.

The human intelligence collectors of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team and the 82nd Airborne Division Special Troops Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, took part in the training exercise, conducted from Aug. 2-6., in which they simulated assuming control of an area of operation in Iraq and establishing contacts with the local population to gather information on insurgent activity, build relationships with the citizens and village leaders, and improve the community.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joe Grano, a human intelligence technician, with B Co., 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2BCT, planned the training months in advance with the assistance of Reservoir Intl. "We set up this scenario to imitate Baghdad, where we attempted to replicate everything down to the people, places, and maps we are using," Grano said.

Throughout the exercise, the teams of four to five paratroopers are presented with myriad of situations in which they must interact with the village "locals." The special part of the training is that all of the "locals" are employed by Reservoir Intl., are masters of the Iraqi culture and Arabic language, and most are native-born Iraqis. Throughout the exercise these role-players provide an unprecedented level of realism for the Soldiers in training.

"Realism, that's our focus for the Soldiers," said Jake Melton, a human intelligence training developer, with Reservoir Intl. "We replicate everything from the village layout to the people and try to give the Soldiers the most realistic idea of what it's like down-range. We are trying to bring Iraq to them."

Due to the realistic level of training, each team must utilize a translator in order to effectively communicate with the locals. "Interacting with these people gives you the feeling that you are talking with a real person, with a real family, and real issues," described Pvt. 1st Class Matthew Lindburg, human intelligence collector, from Honolulu, Hawaii, with B Co., 2BSTB.

In each situation or meeting, the Paratroopers come into contact with varying personalities, each with their own distinct needs, desires, and cultural standards. They must consistently adapt to each new encounter and collect the information needed to accomplish the mission and build a relationship with the community. "Paratroopers must be able to negotiate each situation correctly," Grano stated.

To provide the Paratroopers with the best training possible, each situation can be handled in many different ways. "Each meeting has numerous possible outcomes depending on the Paratroopers interaction with the Iraqi role-players," said Grano.

Because of this, a meeting could turn out poorly for the Paratroopers because they failed to communicate effectively and they will be forced to leave without any useful information. But, the exercise is designed to show them how to improve their skills. At any time, an observer-controller from Reservior Intl., assigned to each team, can stop the meeting and provide guidance to the Soldiers on how they might be able to recover the situation and communicate effectively with the Iraqi role-player. "If the situation becomes unsalvageable," Grano said, "the Soldiers or the OCs can reset and start over."

Following each meeting, the teams are given an after action review by the OCs and the teams translator. The translator provides the team with cultural and social advice on issues that might have arisen and how they might better convey their questions or requests. The OCs provide advice on the overall meeting and feedback on how to improve upon the next meeting with the same individual.

Though the exercise is only five days long, each day represents one week. Therefore when Paratroopers meet with an individual one day, the next day is notionally a week later and many events may have transpired in that time period.

"Throughout the exercise," said Grano, "there are key pieces of information that the teams need to gather in order to kill or capture high-value targets or to build bridges with local leaders and communities."

After each mission, the teams return to their base of operations to compare notes and to report their gathered information to their higher headquarters. Day after day, the interactions build upon each other. "This type of training lets us see things from beginning to the end," said Staff Sgt. Mubota Watson, platoon sergeant, B Co. 2BSTB. "It gives you the chance and ability to witness how the gathered information is linked together like a puzzle. It makes us more effective."

Grano described the training as an opportunity to hone their skills and to return to conventional brigade combat team operations after their more humanitarian aid and disaster relief mission in Haiti, earlier this year.

"This [training] is like a pre-season football game," said Watson. "If you just sat in a locker room and talked about plays you would never get the real experience. But this training submerges us neck-deep into the full exposure of our specialty and gives us a boots on the ground, real world scenario," he continued.

In each scenario, ranging from interaction with possible informants, suspected insurgents, village leaders, to a woman whose husband had been kidnapped, these Paratroopers must quickly adapt and build upon their skills and knowledge in order to successfully complete the exercise and mission.

It's like bringing Iraq to Fort Bragg, "It's the only training like this, anywhere," Grano said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16