PIÑON CANYON MANEUVER SITE, Colo. - Soldiers huddled together near expeditionary Strykers while airing out their grungy bodies in the cool breeze and playing games of spades in the daylight hours before their next mission at night, June 6.
The Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, role-played as an opposing force during a two day defense phase of the Operation Raider Focus training exercise at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site.
An OPFOR is a military unit tasked with representing an enemy for training purposes in war game scenarios.
"As the brigade's OPFOR it's not important for us to win," said Lt. Col. Andrew Saslav, commander, 1st Bn., 38th Inf. Reg., 1st SBCT, 4th Inf. Div. "We're building a plan to be successful, but as a commander I have to keep in mind that I have to make sure that every aspect of the brigade's defense is tested so as a brigade overall we understand how to defend."
Two days filled with intricate planning and rehearsals for a reconnaissance and offensive mission allowed for the maximum training value for both OPFOR and the brigade.
For the first mission, the reconnaissance platoon of Headquarters and Headquarters, 1st Bn., 38th Inf. Reg., 1st SBCT, 4th Inf. Div., stalked at night in Strykers deep past enemy lines to a high ground where they could see over a large area. They crept through trees to the backside of a hill and then dismounted to conceal their vehicles and sneak a Long Range Advance Scout Surveillance System to an observation point.
"We are the eyes and ears of the battalion commander," said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kress, reconnaissance platoon sergeant, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Bn., 38th Inf. Reg., 1st SBCT, 4th Inf. Div.
The Soldiers melded with the ambiance of a forest at night as they observed the area and monitored their radios.
By dawn the reconnaissance Soldiers were rewarded with several target reference points to share with higher command.
For war-game scenario reasons the platoon was removed from the rest of the defense phase but the night mission still proved successful because they inserted deep behind enemy lines mounted in Strykers without being compromised and identified many enemy targets.
"Our mission provided early warning for the rest of the battalion and will give the brigade some good teaching and training points based on how they set up their defense and how we attack it," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Parsons, reconnaissance platoon team leader, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Bn. 38th Inf. Reg., 1st SBCT, 4th Inf. Div. "Our platoon has initiated some of the best missions and the confidence in us from our chain of command makes us perform better."
The reconnaissance mission completed and the major offensive was planned for the upcoming night.
After five hours of mission rehearsals and performing pre-combat checks and inspections, Soldiers of Chaos Company, 1st Bn. 38th Inf. Reg., 1st SBCT, 4th Inf. Div., ate chicken cordon bleu and played cards in the setting sun before initiating the offensive mission.
As the sun slowly lowered behind the horizon, Strykers with draping camouflage nets like flying capes and white X's taped to their fronts staged at the enemy border with combat ready mounted Soldiers waiting in anticipation for the order to attack.
Chaos Company Strykers achingly conquered treacherous terrain through a black curtain of night lit softly by a fat moon and countless twinkling stars.
The approaching sound of helicopter rotor blades inspired one squad of Soldiers to dismount and navigate with night vision goggles to a hiding spot within moonlight shadows casted through skeleton trees. They waited for the lights of two AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to hop into the range of their Javelin missiles.
After the simulated destruction of the helicopters the Soldiers stalked back to their Stryker and began the next leg of the assault.
With support from a heavy breaching team of the 299th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st SBCT, 4th Inf. Div., two mounted rifle companies of the 1st Bn. 38th Inf. Reg., 1st SBCT, 4th Inf. Div., breached through obstacles and exploited enemy defenses.
More than 40 Strykers decisively leap frogged through defenses with mounted machine guns blazing the night with blank-fire ammunition.
The OPFOR pushed as far to their objective as possible but were eventually defeated by the delay defense prepared by the rest of the brigade.
"In its simplest form, the preparation of the defense showcases the discipline of a unit in tirelessly continuing to improve your position until the enemy attacks," said Col. David Hodne, commander, 1st SBCT, 4th Inf. Div. "The Soldiers and leaders in the brigade learned a greater appreciation for the enormity of effort required to succeed in the defense. I couldn't be prouder of the efforts of our Soldiers."