PŌHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii — “Fire for effect,” said Capt. Josh Koeppe, troop commander for C Troop “Recondo,” 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
With his radio in hand, Koeppe watches the smoke billow after another mortar round pounds a tank silhouette from his defensive position Feb. 10 at Pōhakuloa Training Area, Hawaii.
Sitting at an elevation above 6,000 ft., PTA is unlike any other training area on earth. Red lava rock blankets the ground creating razor sharp edges and the sparse vegetation eliminates any hope of finding overhead refuge from the searing sun.
NASA has routinely used the distinctive landscape for a myriad of purposes ranging from familiarizing Apollo astronauts preparing for their historic moonwalk to testing autonomous vehicles for use on Mars.
Despite the challenging environment, the sprawling landscape affords the Raider Squadron of the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team a vast training area not available on the island of Oahu.
“One purpose of the training event is to stress the commander,” said the squadron’s operations officer, Maj. Michael Culler. “The troop commander is responsible for calling in mortars, artillery and attack aviation, while also retrograding his troop back to the squadron’s defensive position, so there’s a lot going on.”
More than 40 key leaders from C Troop participated in the live-fire walk-and-shoot exercise incorporating small arms fire, anti-tank weapons, mortars, artillery and attack helicopters.
Koeppe is responsible for layering-in each weapon system while also retrograding his troop to the battle handoff line. A daunting task that involves constant communication while receiving and passing information both vertically and horizontally.
If done successfully, Recondo Troop delays the enemy’s advance by trading space for time until they can rejoin friendly forces.
“The lane tested our ability to orchestrate direct and indirect fires in an unconventional way,” said Koeppe. “The troop performed very well, imposing their physical and mental toughness throughout the scenario. It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in the Army.”
Recondo Troop, along with the rest of the Raiders, will spend approximately a month at PTA while each troop completes a series of ranges and live-fire exercises to certify the squadron on their mission essential tasks.
In order for 3IBCT to function as a cohesive team, each subordinate unit must demonstrate proficiency on their distinct mission sets. Pōhakuloa Training Area makes the objective attainable.
After the AH-64 Apaches complete their final gun run, Koeppe and the rest of his troopers clear the lane to conduct an after-action review. The AAR process is a training tool to discuss areas that went well and areas to improve.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but there is a constant reminder to stay focused.
“Tonight is your third iteration, so don’t expect everything to be the same,” said Maj. John Irvine, 3-4 CAV executive officer. “The grids will change, the sequence will change, causalities will change, everything will be different. This exercise is designed to test you, so don’t get too comfortable.”
With the reminder to not get too comfortable at the forefront of his mind, Koeppe will also take the feedback from the squadron commander into the night iteration.
“Josh, you did a great job of maintaining tempo throughout the lane,” said Lt. Col. Walt Reed, 3-4 CAV Squadron Commander. “That’s the art and science of maneuver. You filled the lulls with additional fires, which is necessary to keep the enemy at bay and keeping the Soldiers on the ground in the fight.”
Recondo Troop will use the last few hours of daylight to rehearse their plan and conduct some last-minute checks that surfaced during the AAR. Then it’s one more run.
The level of training that is achieved at Pōhakuloa Training Area ensures the Light Fighters of the 3IBCT remain ready for any mission throughout the Pacific.
For Recondo Troop and the rest of the Raiders, a rotation to Southeast Asia this summer to train alongside partner nations in support of Pacific Pathways 22 is on deck.