By Christie Vanover, ChiAfA..vres Garrison Public AffairsOctober 7, 2008
CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium - The warfighting strategy in Afghanistan continued to shift last month, as the Department of Defense announced the deployment of two additional units.
At ChiAfA..vres Air Base, an Army garrison in Belgium utilized by U.S. forces who support NATO operations, the training missions for Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan are also evolving.
In less than three months, a mock village with more than 30 buildings and an outdoor market were constructed at ChiAfA..vres to prepare Soldiers, civilians and allied partners of the 650th Military Intelligence Group for their upcoming deployment.
"My intent was to generate a scenario that was true to life," said Col. Scott St. Cyr, commander, 650th MI Group. "I wanted to bring the streets of Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo to Belgium, so that my Soldiers and future Soldiers who use this site are as prepared as possible to face the unknown."
The training scenario his team developed involved contracted role players and the support of the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command, U.S. Army Garrison Benelux, ChiAfA..vres Garrison and the SHAPE Healthcare Facility.
Dennis Mayer, the training area coordinator at ChiAfA..vres, was instrumental in developing the area. He and his team linked up with tenant units and Soldiers who have been downrange to conceptualize the design of the site and to match it with the units' Mission Essential Task Lists.
"We are trying to make this as realistic as possible to provide the most realistic training for the troops," said Mayer.
To add to the realism, the 650th MI Group, which is spread over three continents and provides counterintelligence to NATO, contracted role players from Hohenfels, Germany. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matt Stearns and other Soldiers who have been downrange used personal experiences and lessons learned to develop a script that the role players executed during the exercise.
Maj. Matt Ingram, the unit S-3, explained that because of the 650th MI Group's overall mission, how they use the urban training area is unlike any other.
As opposed to clearing out a room in a typical urban exercise, the Servicemembers conducted pre-mission planning, interfaced with locals and interweaved 40 to 50 events to come to a resolution and stop a planned explosion.
"You can train Soldiers over and over in a training room," said Ingram, "but putting them face to face with Arabic speaking liaisons surrounded by unknown village people walking the streets, car accidents and IEDs exploding in the distance, you give Soldiers a better sense of the chaos that they will really face once they have boots on the ground."
St. Cyr, who committed $150,000 of his unit funds to the training area, said although it was designed for the immediate preparation of his Soldiers, he envisioned a community training area that supports everyone within the SHAPE and NATO area of responsibility.
Lt. Col. Brian England, commander, ChiAfA..vres Garrison, agreed. "Working together as a team ensures the success of all our partners" he said. "We are continuously building up our training areas to support the needs of not only the U.S. and NATO forces, but also our Host Nation allies."
As units use the new training area, Mayer and members of the 7th Army JMTC will analyze the feedback they receive. As for the 650th MI Group training, he said, "It went well, but I can see it needs a lot more build up to support their needs. We also need more structures to support other units' needs."
He said the ideal platform would include a two-story building to help military police and other Soldiers with standard Military Operations on Urban Terrain training and clearing stairwells; a multi-level wall for single-man entry, team entry and vehicle entry; new roads; a perimeter fence and more.
"We need to try to enhance joint exercises," said Mayer.
Since construction of the new training area, units around ChiAfA..vres are quickly signing up to use the range. The 39th Signal Battalion is conducting a week-long Bivouac, military police are using it for K9 training and the garrison fire department is conducting fire extinguisher training.
"In addition to our military partners, we are opening up the range to our Belgian neighbors," said England. "The Federal Police are planning a two-day crowd control training exercise this week."
"We are committed to the continuous development of our ranges," he added. "Our mission is to prepare our Soldiers and our joint partners. As training areas like these expand at ChiAfA..vres, our Soldiers and NATO allies will continue to be the best trained military in the world."