4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division

Story by Pfc. Victor Ayala
Date: 06.15.2009
Posted: 06.16.2009 07:34

As the Army's role in Iraq is changing, the importance of peaceful communication and liaison with the Iraqi people is paramount. But as long as there is conflict in Iraq, Soldiers must still train for combat. A special exercise at Fort Polk's Joint Readiness Training Center is teaching Soldiers to strike that careful balance.

Soldiers with the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, were tested on the Unit Ministry Team and Personal Security Detachment (PSD) situational training exercise lane, June 15.

"The exercise is designed for the UMT to practice two major skills: battlefield movement and religious leader liaison," said Chaplain Maj. Steve Peck, senior UMT training mentor for Operations Group, JRTC.

"The bread-and-butter mission of the Unit Ministry Team is to provide religious sustainment, but, there are some things they don't get to practice in garrison: moving in a threat environment, responding to civilians on a battlefield, engagement with clerics and working with an interpreter," said Peck.

Each chaplain in the brigade was accompanied by a personal security detachment of about 20 Soldiers and three Stryker vehicles. Each team performed in two iterations through a mock village, complete with a population of role-players.

The skills of both the chaplains and their security details were measured by numerous training mentors. The chaplain's duty in the team was to speak with the local imam, or Iraqi religious leader, get a feeling for the needs of the village and attempt to establish a positive relationship with the village. The security detail was evaluated in its posture while entering the village and how it responded to any combat situations.

Each team encountered hostile fire at the end of their iteration, but the responses were different. Some stood their ground and fought, some broke contact and some moved to maneuver against their attackers. All actions taken during the first exercise, from the first handshake to the last round fired, had specific consequences on the second.

Sgt. 1st Class Shaun Morgan, a training mentor with Operations Group JRTC, explained the relevance of this organic aspect of the training.

"It's all about posture. If you go into a village with guns pointed, the people aren't going to respond well," Morgan explained, "and they remember how we treat them."

He gave pointers and praise where necessary, reminding the Soldiers of their new responsibility in Iraq.

"It's about hearts and minds, guys, hearts and minds. In the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, our posture was very aggressive. Now we have to tone it down because we're handing things over to the Iraqi army," said Morgan.

Outfitted with new insight, the teams went for their second pass through the town. The effects of their previous visit were shown in subtle ways. For example, a team that entered too aggressively before would be met with a colder, untrusting crowd the second time.

The second time through the village, the chaplains offered humanitarian aid in the form of hospital supplies while security again established positions in the town. Because of the guidance of their training mentors, the Soldiers in the security teams were more careful of how they presented themselves to the villagers, and the chaplains refined their negotiations with the imam.

Despite the interactions with the village leaders, the Soldiers were confronted again with combat. This time the security had to respond to a more hectic situation. Improvised explosive devices, rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire tested the Soldiers' ability to protect the chaplain and each other. Once the notional insurgents were put down and any casualties were taken care of, the teams left the village for the last time.

The brigade's upcoming deployment to Iraq will be the first for 1st Lt. Folauga Tupuola, chaplain for 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, and this training has built up his confidence in his upcoming mission.

"It's very important to establish these relationships. We're not worrying about religious differences. We're focusing on virtue commonality. We show them our friendship, they'll show theirs. We show them our respect, they show us theirs," Tupuola said.

Being only two years old, this training exercise is a relatively new addition to the JRTC, but Morgan says it's a welcome one.

"It's great because it allows the UMTs and PSDs to improve their skills in a combined effort. As the war changes, the training changes, and this exercise reflects that," Morgan said.