It's day five of Allied Spirit X and the late afternoon sun listed lazily across the western sky, highlighting the Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, as they prepared for the upcoming operations. The 1-4 Inf. Regt. was tasked to role play as the oppositional forces; whose mission was to engage against an allied front in the fictitious scenario. M113 Armored Personnel Carriers sat row after row, as an ever-growing crowd of Soldiers diligently laid out and repacked gear into their designated vehicles, preparing for another lengthy mission of simulated combat. As the sun slowly gave way to the night sky each bolt was checked, and each bag marked and stowed in preparation for pre-movement inspections.
After their vehicles were readied a new sense of urgency rushed across the staging area. Commands were shouted loudly over the roar of multiple engines as Soldiers rapidly moved to their appointed places. To the outside eye, the area became a fenced-in, three-ring circus of different camo patterns, steel and diesel exhaust, yet each Soldier knew where to go and what to do.
Amidst all the organized chaos, Soldiers could be seen holding small makeup compacts and staring into mirrors. Every Soldier, infantryman to commander, decorated their face with camouflage paint to increase the level of realism in the training.
Despite the hurried conditions and cramped quarters these men still found the time to joke and entertain themselves. Some painted their faces in strange and humorous ways, some painted their entire heads, all while laughing and continuing to prepare for the fight. It is a sign, to the casual observer, of the bond that is built from spending so much time together in hardship.
Each Soldier gathered their equipment, readied their rifle and donned their fighting load, consisting of the gear they needed to best engage the enemy, as well as the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System.
MILES gear uses blank cartridges, lasers and receivers to simulate actual battle. Each Soldier and vehicle were equipped with several sensors that detect incoming lasers. To complete the simulation every weapons system had a laser mounted on the barrel that transmits a beam of compressed information including what type of weapon it is and its maximum effective range. When these lasers impact a sensor, an alarm sounds and the Soldier must take off their helmet to signify they are out of the fight.
The "Go" sign was given and each crew loaded their final equipment. A cacophony of mechanical whirring began as dozens of engines spun up to operational levels, increasing the noise to that of a truly massive thunderstorm. In perfect military order the APCs carrying the men of the 1-4 Inf. Regt. lined up in order for the march to the forward staging area. Darkness began begun to take over as these weapons of war, complete with the warriors inside, prepared for the final roll out.
These mighty machines filed into their marching order as darkness chased away the remaining daylight. Final radio checks were conducted and each vehicle was inspected checked yet again to ensure the column would arrive at the forward operating area in one piece and ready to go.
As the main element of the 1-4 Inf. Regt. rolled down the road, the clanking of the tracked vehicles broke the still quiet of the night. Inside each vehicle, Soldiers tried to catch what sleep they could between every bump and dip in the road. The darkened countryside rolled by in a rumbling silence.
After hours of lumbering road, the vehicles shook to a halt. The gunners in each truck gained a quick advantage over their peers as they picked out the best spots to lay their heads for the few hours of the night remaining. The mornings mission, to push against the enemy lines and take the town of Raversdorf, would come soon enough.
After the vehicles stopped, and the roar of the engines died down, Soldiers piled out grabbing sleeping bags and their beloved poncho liners. Red chemical lights were tossed out to mark the extent of the sleeping area. The crew of one vehicle was smart enough to grab a cooler of now lukewarm coffee before they left. That vehicle quickly became a gathering point for Soldiers before they attempted to get a small amount of sleep prior to the morning's mission.
Just a few short hours later, vehicle engines rumbled back to life, purring like lions before a hunt. There was little talk as the tired, hungry Soldiers gathered up their gear and climbed back into the cramped interior of their awaiting APCs. As they rolled towards battle, sleeping gear was stowed and weapons systems were readied.
As day grew on the horizon, the massive formation of vehicles spread out. Each gunner and vehicle commander's eyes constantly scanned the surrounding forest, awaiting the moment that contact with the enemy was made.
As the element moved further into the cold air of the surrounding forest, vehicles split off and pulled behind cover to provide rear security for the attacking force. Once each vehicle was properly concealed, the crews settled in. The wait for enemy contact began.
Gunners gazed into the trees with watchful eyes, constantly scanning for movement, while the crew below them sat quietly, scanning the crowded woods. The sheer silence and the nervous anxiety quickly faded as the first joke of the morning was made. With so little room to maneuver inside their vehicles any concept of boundaries quickly disappeared and was replaced by awkward jokes and quiet laughter. Tensions eased and normal conversations began again. It's in these moments that Soldiers establish the lifelong bonds that would be so hard to describe to civilian friends and family.
A subtle bit of movement caught a Soldier's eye. In the flash of a second the joking stopped and the call went out. Infantrymen dismounted the vehicle and advanced into the foreboding woods to investigate the disturbance. With their rifles at the ready, each man tread lightly down the crunching gravel road.
To avoid the openness of the road and gain a better advantage, the foot patrol silently crept up a nearby hillside. Each crunch of leaves and snap of a twig sounded like a cannon shot in the stillness. The Soldiers moved slowly and cautiously, using years of experience with each footfall.
The world froze as a the lead Soldier dropped to his knee. An intruder was spotted along the road below. Each man moved to cover behind whatever they could find, diving behind trees, throwing themselves into brush piles. The silence became deafening as each Soldier held their breath awaiting the news of friend or foe, attack or fall back.
The unknown figure approached the element, nervously grasping the flag on his uniform, hoping the men behind the rifles realize he is an ally. A collective breath of relief was released as they realized that this was a friend that had wandered so close to their vehicles. That feeling of relief was quickly followed by a strange sense of disappointment that a firefight had not ensued.
At last the call came across the radio. Contact had been made with the enemy and the advance began. The speed at which the vehicles and Soldiers were readied was astonishing. The element rolled forward, towards the fray, ready to engage the enemy.
The crack of rifles filled the air around the small town of Raversdorf as the squad drove in. The column's goal was to advance past the quaint hamlet and flank the enemy embedded there. All pretense of stealth was thrown to the winds as each vehicle roared at full speed across the open terrain. With an earth shattering boom the ground next to the lead vehicle exploded. They were in the sights of enemy armor. The adrenaline once again surged through the veins of each Soldier as the battle began.
As quickly as it started, the battle was over. The superior fire power of the 1-4 Inf. Regt.'s main battle tanks created an easy victory in Raversdorf, as well as an imposing view for the retreating enemy forces.
With the battle over and the area secured the battalion commander called his forces together outside the town to assess their losses and plan for the next fight. The woods, once filled with harrowing quiet, broke only by the occasional thunder of rifles now echoed with jubilant laughter as they swapped stories of encounters and near misses from the battle.