Area Mike training prepares 9th Engineers for danger of IEDs
Soldiers from the 9th Engineer Battalion sit inside an RG-31 armored vehicle equipped with mine-detection rollers. The frigid exercise, held at Schweinfurt's Pfändhausen training area, provided skills to recognize IEDs and to safely scan an area to ensure clear passage.

SCHWEINFURT, Germany-The rolling hills of the 6,000 acre PfAfA$ndhausen training area were blanketed by an unseasonably early layer of fresh white snow. The RG-31 mine-protected vehicle crept along the icy road at a snail's pace, slowing to a stop between two small knolls rising from the wintry landscape. Buried among the trees was a rocket aimed directly for the vehicle and its five passengers- Soldiers from the 9th Engineer Battalion's Alpha Company.

Although the Soldiers were part of a training scenario and the rocket was merely a realistic prop, the situation is one that these troops could face on a regular basis during their deployment in 2011. 1st Lt. Daniel Maxwell led his platoon through the exercise, and said part of the point was to recognize and deal with roadside bombs.

"These specialized vehicles allow the Soldiers to interrogate the IED," said Maxwell, referring to the RG-31 equipped with a "Ferret Arm" to move aside rocks and debris from around a camouflaged improvised explosive device. The machinery allows for examination of an IED from a distance, but the Soldiers within the vehicle still need to dismount and visually scan the area.

Another specialized vehicle the Soldiers trained on during this exercise, known as a Husky, only allows for a single driver carrying a pistol, with not even enough room for a standard-issue rifle. The Soldier inside is encased in a heavily armored hull with a v-shaped bottom-much like a boat-designed to deflect explosions away from the vehicle. Though wheels may be damaged or blown clear, often the hull remains intact and the Soldier is unhurt.

"The Husky is basically designed to hit bombs," said Maxwell. "They're real tough."

The training the Soldiers received are part of an initiative by the Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC), headquartered in Grafenwoehr, Germany, to provide commanders the tools available to support Counter Improvised Explosive Device (C-IED) training at the platoon, company, and battalion level. The JMTC provides unit's with the resources to increase proficiency in recognizing and mitigating the effects of IEDS on today's battlefield.

The training experts, James Gibb from GrafenwAfAPhr and Oscar Hernandez from Baumholder, set up the IED scenario in what they call a "pinch point," or a place where a road threading between two elevated pieces of land sets up an ideal spot for a potential IED bomber to strike.

Hernandez, who has utilized training areas all over Germany, sang the praises of PfAfA$ndhausen, sometimes known as Area Mike. "I like Schweinfurt's area best of all. It's really got everything you need in a big, standalone place. The FOB, the MOUT site, dig areas, everything," said Hernandez. "Plus you really feel like you're out in the woods."

As the largest training command outside the continental United States, with vast ranges, simulation centers, and classrooms and facilities throughout Europe, the JMTC provides realistic and relevant training to U.S. Army, Joint Service, NATO and allied units and leaders. Edward Nieto, a regional officer from training support, said that the Army had invested $1 million into Area Mike expanding a road to better simulate roadside conditions in the Middle East. The improvement aided this particular training, creating IED environments much like those downrange.

"The enemy uses culverts and choke points to attack. They look for places where our Soldiers have no choice but to drive through," said Gibb. Using the prop rocket and other telltale signs of IEDs, they trained the Soldiers to identify weapons and neutralize threat, lowering the potential for harm in a real-life scenario.

The Soldiers work in teams, using a Husky equipped with metal detectors traveling in tandem with an RG-31. They don't merely rely on technological advantage, and in this training they learned effective tactics for dealing with small-arms attacks on foot. According to the trainers, this sort of after-attack often accompanies an initial blast from an IED.

The Soldiers commented about the cold conditions, marveling at how difficult it was to spot the concealed prop rocket in the snow before hurrying to hop back into the heated cab of the RG-31 after their scan of the surrounding area on foot. But the somber realities of their training were inescapable.

The concentrated looks on their faces indicated acknowledgment of every detail from every procedure the trainers described, carefully filed away for the day when the Soldiers might need to use the skills in battle.

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