Alaska Soldiers train 'down under'
September 5, 2012
QUEENSLAND, Australia (Sept. 5, 2012) -- "Welcome to the jungle," Australian Army Sgt. 1st Class David Harding told a group of Soldiers from U.S. Army Alaska's 2nd Engineer Brigade at the Combat Training Center in Australia's tropical northeastern state of Queensland.
Multicolored birds chirped overhead and trees swayed in the breeze as the Soldiers set off on patrol, a tranquil scene, until machine gun fire rang out from all directions.
"Take cover, take cover," yelled Soldiers from the 2nd Engineer Brigade. "Return fire, return fire."
Recent cyclones had ravaged the jungle canopy, littering the ground with debris and vegetation so thick it was impossible to walk through in spots. The Soldiers carried heavy rucksacks through streams and used ropes to climb steep gullies through the thick ground cover.
"Everything happened so fast," Staff Sgt. Jeremy Dodson, 6th Engineer Battalion, 2nd Engineer Brigade S3 training noncommissioned officer-in-charge said. "It was complete chaos. We could not see the enemy or even our Soldiers behind us due to the thick vegetation, but we knew they were there. Once everyone got their bearing, we established our attack component and assaulted through the enemy."
The 2nd Engineer Brigade Soldiers, along with 36 other U.S. Army Pacific, or USARPAC, Soldiers from Fort Richardson, Fort Wainwright, Hawaii, Korea, and Guam, participated in the 12-day Australian Army Junior Leader Jungle Training Course, July 30 to Aug. 10, in the jungles of the Australian Combat Training Center in the country's northeastern state.
The purpose of the course was to train on close combat jungle tactics and build relations between the U.S. and Australian armies. The soldiers are also expected to take what they learned in Australia back to Alaska to train their units.
The course, taught by Australian Army infantry senior noncommissioned officers-in-charge, introduced the Arctic Trailblazers to living and fighting in the jungle environment while Australian soldiers played the role of enemy forces during training.
The first day of the course, soldiers learned about the hazardous plants, animals, and diseases that can hinder operations in the jungle.
The course focused on squad and platoon size tactics similar to Sapper and Ranger schools, with leadership positions switching among the students for each mission.
The Australian instructors taught the Arctic Trailblazers such tactics as reacting to enemy contact, conducting an ambush, attacking, conducting an enemy camp search, and establishing a secure nightly "harbor" or patrol base.
The Soldiers saw a demonstration of the the different effects illumination can have on the enemy during night operations in the jungle and the damage a live claymore mine can inflict.
The course concluded with a squad competition known as "True Grit," which included a several kilometer ruck march, then a load-bearing equipment run, an observation exercise, an obstacle course and a bayonet assault course.
To finish True Grit the squads had to work as a team just as they had since the start of the course.
After the mission was complete, the sounds of the jungle came back, but one voice and one refrain seemed to resonate: "Get on your guts!"
"When we were not low crawling correctly during contact with the enemy, Australian Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 [a rank equivalent to a U.S. Army master sergeant] P.J. McCurdy, an Australian army Instructor, would scream to the top of his lungs, 'Get on your guts! Get on your guts!'" Dodson said.
"The last time [U.S. forces] attended the Australian Combat Training Center was in 2000 before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001," McCurdy said, "so we have to teach them and prepare them in jungle tactics and skills that could save their lives one day. We are hoping we will see more U.S. soldiers attend our training we have here."
The U.S. and Australian soldiers learned from each other; everything from military skills to how their countries live everyday lives, according to Dodson.
"This was a great experience," Dodson said. "This was truly an experience none of us will ever forget."
(Capt. Stephen Austria serves with Alaska's 2nd Engineer Brigade.)