By Andrea Sutherland (Fort Carson)May 17, 2012
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- In the muck and mud near Range 40, platoons battled. They fought not for awards or recognition, but for practice.
"I guess there were bragging rights for platoons 'winning,'" said Lt. Col. Geoff Norman, commander, 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. "This was training."
For the "Buffalo" Soldiers of the 7th Sqdn., 10th Cav. Reg., the 30-day training was preparation for both 1st BCT's rotation at the U.S. Army National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., as well as future conflicts they may face.
As the war in Afghanistan comes to a close, military leaders have turned their attention to a new era of training, Norman said. Armywide, brigades have switched from counterinsurgency to decisive action training, where troops incorporate counterinsurgency techniques with traditional force-on-force maneuvers.
At Fort Carson, 1st Brigade is the first to incorporate these new techniques into its training.
"We are training to prepare for a hybrid threat," said Norman.
Norman said Soldiers must now prepare for any contingency, including fighting a uniformed military with the same weapons capability as the U.S. Army as well as insurgents, all while protecting and helping a civilian population.
In order to make the switch from counterinsurgency tactics, Soldiers had to throw out the proverbial playbook of the past 10 years and start fresh. For cavalry troops, whose primary purpose is reconnaissance, this was especially challenging.
"It was hard for them to wrap their minds around it," said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Dunlap, 7th Sqdn., 10th Cav. Reg.
Dunlap said it was essential for his troops to learn the fundamentals of reconnaissance.
"This training was a long time coming," he said. "It was challenging because we've been away from our job for so long."
As a reconnaissance unit, cavalry Soldiers traditionally operated with "heavy" equipment, including Bradley vehicles and armored tanks. However, the fighting environment in Iraq and Afghanistan called for "light" vehicles and cavalry units across the Army had to adapt. Now, with the switch to decisive-action training, Soldiers must return to the traditional training while incorporating lessons learned in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
"Our focus (in training) was getting back to basics," said 2nd Lt. Joshua McDowell, platoon leader, Troop B, 7th Sqdn., 10th Cav. Reg. "There's definitely a gap between the (lower enlisted) Soldiers and (senior noncommissioned officers)."
"It's a lost art," said 1st Lt. Ryan German, Troop B, 7th Sqdn., 10th Cav. Reg. "A lot of the younger guys haven't had this type of training before. We need to be prepared for all types of threats."
For three weeks, cavalry Soldiers trained for several scenarios.
Troops practiced creating screen lines, a core recon task, where Soldiers establish a position and report on enemy activity. The cavalry unit also participated in "zone" reconnaissance that had troops moving throughout an area to gather information on enemy activity, terrain challenges and other vital information to prepare other forces in the area.
Cavalry officers said troops had to prepare not only for missions, but to remain a self-sustaining unit able to secure its own troops and respond to any problems in the field.
"It's always a tactical environment," said 1st Lt. Jared Grant, executive officer, Troop B. "You have to always be prepared to face the enemy. There's no (forward operating base) to go back to and watch a movie."
"One of our Bradleys broke down in a snake pit," German said. "Our support unit came out and repaired the vehicle and we moved on. There's no 'safe zone' anymore."
Grant said the cavalry unit's three weeks of training was all in preparation for a weeklong brigade-level maneuver dubbed "Raider Strike," where units throughout 1st Brigade were tested and evaluated.
"The intent (of Raider Strike) was to combine what we've learned over the last 10 years with the contemporary environment as well as training we haven't used in years," said Grant. "Platoons maneuvered against similar strength platoons. In addition, our Soldiers had to factor in the local population."
"(The evaluators) continuously throw tasks at you to stress you out," German said. "The purpose was to get us out of our comfort zone. It was great training for all of the troops from the support guys to the medics."
Dunlap said the training was a good wake-up call for all of his Soldiers.
"It was a surprise," he said. "It was a rude awakening for all of us -- this is what we do and this is how we do it. … Training is training. This is what we have to do. It's only going to get better."