GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - Mud, rain and cold challenge every Soldier who trains here. But as troops from the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment from Vilseck challenged themselves, moving from individual to platoon-level live fire training, they proved that U.S. Army, Europe's newest has what it takes to overcome anything "the Box" at the Joint Multinational Training Command can bring.

Following several months of staff planning, individual and squad training, the Stryker Soldiers, many of whom are new to the Army, spent several weeks practicing for the Dec. 13 day and night platoon-level defensive maneuvers, followed up with a counterattack, all supported by mortar fire integral to the unit.

"To see young Soldiers, who haven't been in the Army very long, suddenly begin to do things they've never done before; it's fantastic," said 3rd Squadron commander, Lt. Col. Rod Coffey.

"They are throwing hand grenades, using AT-4s (light anti-armor weapons)," he explained, "while squad and platoon leaders maneuver, perform casualty evacuations and call for mortar fire. They have done superbly."

Coffey and his observer-controller team threw some conventional defense scenarios at 2nd Lt. Eric Owens, 2nd Platoon, Ghost Rider Company, who experienced for the first time Strykers being used in open terrain. "Here, we went back to old-style tactics, using a reserve and mounting a counter attack."

With a continuous light rain falling around him after the defensive struggle, Owens said his Soldiers can "reach out and touch" the enemy more than two kilometers away, using either a Javelin anti-tank missile or their Remote Weapons Systems connected to a .50 caliber machine gun or Mark 19 grenade launcher.

"Inside the Stryker, they have a joystick with thumb lever and trigger, and a small TV screen connected to a camera mounted right underneath the weapon," Owens said. "It is very accurate, and we were able to engage targets fairly far out."

The system increases a Soldier's survivability, Owens explained: "The hatch is buttoned down, he also has communications where he can talk to me, or relay messages to higher headquarters."

Owens said this training can be used to prepare for a number of potential missions.

"If we go downrange, either in a conventional or unconventional fight," he said, "if we set up a company operating point, or a defensive position inside a city, we would apply the same principles as here."

"The Stryker has tremendous versatility and speed," Owens said, smiling, "My friends in other units are envious of the capabilities we have - being able to move, shoot, carry as many people as we can, and employing as many weapons systems as we carry. We are the only type of unit in the Army that can to that."

The speed and maneuverability is a plus for Pfc. Richard Main, G Co., who drives the Infantry Carrier Vehicle (M1126) version of the Stryker. "There are no tracks, like on a tank, so it is quieter and can turn better in a city environment. The ride can be rough sometimes, but if (the other infantrymen) get there safe, and covered, they are good to go," he said.

Still, he stressed, a Stryker is no lightweight, and safety remains a constant part of his job. "With 40,000 pounds, eight wheels, and a six-cylinder turbo diesel, you have to be on top of your game. I am constantly tracking where everyone is, 'Are they on the ground'' Behind me'' You can kill somebody (if you lose track of their location)."

During the Dec. 13 training, one Stryker was even temporarily buried up to the rear axle, but with some expert ground guidance from a senior NCO, the vehicle was mobile in minutes.

"If you blow a tire, you can drive on it, switch to 4-by-8 or 8-by-8 drive, it's basically a self-recovering vehicle," said Spc. Michael Vculek, mortar gunner, who emphasized that the vehicle can be back in action (for example, after an IED attack) within 24 hours.

Despite the ICVs durability and firepower, sometimes you need an even bigger gun with longer range, such as when the unit called on its mortar platoon, which uses the Mortar Carrier variant (M1129) of the Stryker. The 120mm tube it carries has a range of more than 7,000 meters.

While hidden in the wood line, the mortar Soldiers quickly set up and dropped rounds on enemy positions. Taking less than one minute from fire mission to launch, the mortar carrier's suspension gently depressed with each blast.

"Whenever they need rounds downrange, we are ready to support them," said Staff Sgt. Virgilio Rodriguez, HHC section leader.

One reason for his enthusiasm is a new design of the M1129, with an interior mounted tube, versus one outside the vehicle.

"There are lots of advantages. You don't have to lug that 120 all over, you're not exposed, you just pop it up and shoot," Vculek said. "It's easier and more accurate."

Leading the mortar platoon, 1st Lt., Jake Lewis was pleased with the training, despite the challenge of having many new Soldiers. "We started with the gunner's exam, showed them the standard, and they have been making it work," he said. "We're out here having fun."

After receiving support from the mortar platoon, the infantry began their counterattack with a mounted and dismounted assault through a wooded area, clearing a trench complex and driving off the remaining enemy with combined live fire from AT-4s, mounted weapons and small arms.

The din of machine guns, grenade launchers and M-4s made for a lethal symphony, but the Stryker Soldiers kept their cool - staying low and pouring fire on pop-up targets until they stayed down.

Capt. David M. Gohlich, Iron Company commander, said his Soldiers' performance "was the culmination of our training for the quarter. Assaulting a trench was new twist, but the guys did a great job today."

He believes the lessons of past training also paid off. "The Soldiers are showing aggressiveness, the platoon leaders are learning their roles, paying attention to the lessons from previous live fire and learning from their noncommissioned officers and the NCOs are controlling their men," Gohlich said.

He quickly gives credit to his NCO corps for the unit's performance. "It's the reason we are successful," he said. "A platoon leader can give a simple direction and the NCOs make it happen. It's what makes the difference in this fight, in every fight. NCOs are what makes this unit go."

Capt. Okechukwu Akalaonu, 3rd Squadron, had a similar point of view from his position as exercise observer-controller. "From eight days ago until today, their execution is almost flawless. It's a good mixture of experienced NCOs and young kids, you aren't starting from ground zero, and we can train the unit up fast - the experience of the NCOs overshadows any lack of knowledge."

Following an after action review from Akalaonu and others, Coffey reflected on what Strykers bring to a combatant commander.

"First of all we have some digital command and control technology that allows us to see the whole battlefield," Coffey said. "The vehicles can hold an entire squad, plus two other Soldiers, driving and manning the remote weapons system. Plus, our guys have an array of weapons on board, with the know how to use a Javelin to kill tanks, employ machine guns, and use demolitions, it's a complete package."

Coffey believes his unit is ready to integrate operations at the next level.

"Up next is company and squadron training in Hohenfels at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, we are really looking forward to training there," he said confidently. "Our guys can handle anything we throw at them."