Mountain Strike II: 4th BCT trains for Afghanistan
September 29, 2011
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- 4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office, 4th Infantry Division 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, conducted Mountain Strike II on Fort Carson Sept. 6-16.
During the brigadewide exercise, units passed through four different training lanes designed to mimic situations the units may encounter during the brigade's upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
Capt. Erik McAndrews, brigade assistant plans officer, said he did much of the early work in bringing the lanes from just a plan to reality.
"We had three patrol lanes where you'd have a company go through the lane with one mounted section," he said. "The rest of the company would be dismounted; they would be going out to meet 'key leaders from Afghanistan.' The other lane that we had was the convoy lane with various (improvised explosive device), ambush and checkpoint events throughout the lane for them to encounter and have to deal with."
McAndrews said the exercise focus was on counterinsurgency tactics, training the brigade's Soldiers for their mission in Afghanistan.
Capt. Eric Schmitz, commander, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th BCT, said his company performed all three of the exercise patrol lanes, which all involved 'key leader' engagements and dealing with civilians on the battlefield.
Schmitz said this was the first time his company executed counterinsurgency operations, and that he was "pleasantly surprised" at how well Company B transferred from a deliberate attack, like those seen in Mountain Strike I, to a situation where the Soldiers' judgment is paramount to winning the fight.
During one of the patrol lanes, Schmitz's company put that judgment to the test, as they encountered a village that could have easily become hostile.
"As we approached the village, we understood that the final village had unfortunately received some indirect fire on a house," Schmitz said. "Some children were 'injured' (and) a home was 'destroyed,' so we walked into an unhappy environment to say the least."
Schmitz worked to defuse the situation though, moving his vehicles out of the town at the request of the 'village elder' before starting a conversation to understand the elder's needs.
"By addressing his agenda first and understanding some of his problems, we were able to build a relationship immediately," Schmitz said.
The relationship paid off. After working through some of the village's problems, the elder revealed that 'Taliban forces' were nearby.
"Then it turned into a security issue," Schmitz said. "We had a platoon with us on the ground. Part of it was mounted, part of it was dismounted. When the local leader told us the Taliban is typically in the high ground, we asked for his permission and he granted it, and we maneuvered a section of our trucks up the hill to the east and effectively prevented an 'ambush' from occurring at that point."
McAndrews explained that many of the situations, such as the one Schmitz faced, were based upon actual experiences from the brigade's last deployment to Afghanistan.
He cited an example where U.S. forces going through the lane had to drive on one ridgeline at the edge of a valley.
"I had my (opposition forces) on the other ridgeline," he said. "There was no way to bridge that gap unless you dismounted. So it was about … (an) 800 meter separation, which is what you'll most commonly see (in Afghanistan)."
McAndrews also said they worked to portray some of the details that are sometimes overlooked but necessary for preparing Soldiers to deal with the unexpected, like having noncombatants running in between U.S. vehicles during firefights to pick up brass.
"The sole purpose of this was to train people on how to deal (with the reality of) Afghanistan," McAndrews said. "I'm sure some of the younger Soldiers are not going to believe it. Then they're going to go over there and go 'oh my God, I can't believe this is actually happening.' So I tried to show how (some things) we would deem totally ridiculous are commonplace."
1st Lt. Jenny Perkins, officer-in-charge of the Female Engagement Team for 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th BCT, is one of those younger Soldiers McAndrews was trying to reach out to. She said the training presented during Mountain Strike II helped her realize exactly what her mission overseas will be.
"The biggest thing was to gain atmospherics of a village and see what they felt about the Americans, and build relationships so that we can come back with follow-on missions," she said. "It got me really excited to know I'll be able to go and build relationships with people."