By Michael Beaton, Presidio of Monterey Public AffairsJuly 31, 2014
PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- A squad Soldiers from Company F, 229th Military Intelligence Battalion, goes from house to house, their movements deliberate, concerted, methodical.
Their mission is to find and recover a downed helicopter pilot who was taken from a remote crash site to a village where there are known insurgents, and possibly snipers.
As the Soldiers from Company F, or Foxtrot Company, made their way to the village they gathered intelligence from locals they encountered on the way and even took fire from insurgents operating in the area.
Arriving at the village, they learned from a local merchant that they should pay particular attention to a house on the edge of the village, and, having reached it, they began to check and clear rooms, then moved further into the house in the hopes of finding the injured pilot.
Suddenly, all movement stoped; the unit transformed into statues, stock-still but coiled for action.
The Soldier on point raised his hand, showing a clinched fist as he peered around a doorway, then one by one, other Soldiers quietly moved up and took positions for quick entry, their weapons down, but ready.
Without warning a voice cut through the silence from behind them, as if a film director coaching actors was consulting a script through a tense scene.
"Stop! You can't line up that way! You'll be falling all over each other when you launch through the door," Staff Sgt. Roshunda Basset-Olson, Foxtrot Company platoon sergeant, told the Soldiers. "You'll be killed in less than a minute. Every last one of you."
On any other day in a real combat zone the scenario would seem surreal, like something out of a "Twilight Zone" episode, but Basset-Olson's lethal precognition was just that, a training exercise played out in the safety of a controlled environment like the MOUT site to identify mistakes and correct them before they deploy to a combat zone.
Basset-Olson mixed a bit of praise with some tough criticism. Then she rearranged the Soldiers in the proper formation, taking the time to explain to each individually, then to the entire group why they need to be in a certain place at a certain time to make their entry into a potentially dangerous situation.
Once she set them in their proper places, Basset-Olson stepped back and folded her arms -- the perfect observer. "Now try it. On cue, annnnnnd ... go!"
The scenario was just one of many training exercises for Soldiers participating in the 229th MI Bn's MOUT site training at the former Fort Ord facilities not far from their home station at the Presidio of Monterey.
Nearly 70 Foxtrot Company Soldiers sharpened their "Military Operations on Urban Terrain," or MOUT, skills, which included tactical Soldier skills such as patrolling, clearing and searching buildings in combination with a long list of language interpretation exercises and immersion scenarios at the site on the former Fort Ord July 19.
Basset-Olson, along with Staff Sgt. Raven Vargas, Company E platoon sergeant, organized the training and tailored it to the roles as linguists on the battlefield.
The MOUT site at the former Ford Ord encompasses 61 acres of a variety of terrains and includes 42 buildings as well as various other structures, roads, a lengthy unobstructed stretch of road and a pistol range.
Once on site, the Soldiers wore full combat gear, including helmets and actual weapons loaded with blank rounds.
"Many of the Soldiers using the MOUT site have not done outdoor tactical training since basic training," said Basset-Olsen, explaining another reason for continuous training.
"Also, it's important that these Soldiers begin to use their language skills outside of a classroom environment," added Vargas.
"Walking unfamiliar streets, occupied by a foreign people who, for all intents and purposes may or may not trust you, is something you can't experience in a classroom, but it's a big part of the mission for most of the Soldiers serving in Afghanistan. That's why the Army mandates MOUT training for every Soldier," Vargas said.
The MOUT training also provides an opportunity for Soldiers new to Foxtrot Company to bond and learn new communication techniques.
"A lot of my guys are still new, direct from basic training," Basset-Olson said. "They haven't had the chance to build that unit cohesion you get in a deployed environment."
While the training encouraged bonding among the Soldiers, it also encouraged the Soldiers to think of their newly learned languages in a military setting, as the training used non-English-speaking role players throughout to challenge Soldiers' language and cultural awareness as well as tactical skills.
The payoff was big, as the Foxtrot Soldiers were motivated and receptive during the training.
"We practiced beforehand for five days, and that really helped us. So it was just up to us to put it into play," said Pfc. Gerardo Escareno. "I definitely would like to see more of this type of training in the future."
The training was not only a refresher for the squad but an eye-opener for the newer Soldiers, who often come into the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center directly after graduating from basic combat training.
"The training was very well organized, realistic and relevant to our studies. But foremost it reminded me that I am a Soldier first," said Pfc. Claudia Jauregui. "But the most intense part was receiving simulated direct-fire and had to react quickly."
"I think our group performed very well. We had good instructors and NCOs and cadre who helped us. The role players who played the local nationals were very believable and made us think on the spot as to how we would respond while using our language skills," Jauregui said.
Basset-Olson shared the same sentiment as her squad members.
"The main thing about these Soldiers is they are really applying themselves out here and are committed to learning how to work as linguist Soldiers in the field and not only in a classroom," she said. "It's really been a joy to work with them."
Lt. Col. Frank Smith, 229th commander who was on site to observe his Soldiers, reinforced the necessity of the training when he said to one of the squads at the end of the exercise: "We can't forget at the end of the day we are Soldiers and must retain our readiness and our resiliency."
He said that "we have to be able to integrate with the operational force, and that's why we take the time to do this."
ABOUT THE 229th MILITARY INTELLIGENCE BATTALION
The mission of the 229th Military Intelligence Battalion located on the Presidio of Monterey is to provide the Army with ready Soldier linguists. The 229th was originally constituted in the Regular Army as the 29th Military Intelligence Battalion in Panama in 1985. In June 1986, the battalion was placed in a reinforcing role to the 470th Military Intelligence Group, INSCOM, strengthening the overall management of Army Intelligence assets in the theater.
The battalion distinguished itself during Operation Just Cause in 1988-1989, earning the Army Superior Unit Award for exceptionally meritorious performance of duty while in support of the United States Army South, the United States Southern Command, and the Joint Task Force-Panama. The unit inactivated in Panama in October 1991. The 29th Military Intelligence Battalion (CEWI) was re-designated as the 229th Military Intelligence Battalion in December 1995. In March 1996 the 229th Military Intelligence Battalion assumed its mission from Troop Command, Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center and Presidio of Monterey.