By Cheryl RodewigNovember 2, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Oct. 31, 2012) -- A corner of Sand Hill has been turned into a simulated open-air marketplace, complete with raw meat hanging from a rack next to a butcher block, crates of produce and samples of clothing. It's an environment that could be encountered in many places overseas -- and one that Soldiers need to be familiar with if they are to maintain situational awareness in all settings.
"Staff Sgt. Thomas Howells, NCOIC of the Land Mine Warfare Training Area, the site for the marketplace and adjoining mock village, said the training aids, including the wares, coffee shop and dummies, add to the realism for Soldiers in the 198th Infantry Brigade who visit the range for counter-IED training.
"It's important for you to pay attention to what's going on around you," Howells said, pointing out a directionally focused fragmentation charge, perched on top of one building, which many trainees miss the first time. "You're looking for subtle changes in your environment: what's different today from yesterday."
The upgraded marketplace is another tool for A Company, 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, which offers counter-IED training to abount 41,000 Infantrymen every year.
"It's just setting the stage around them," Howells said. "We train as we fight. We want to try and get them in that mindset, so that while we're talking them through this, they start kind of getting in the mood. It's one thing if you're sitting in a class … but it's another if I can get you out here and I can walk you through (this) simulated village, and I bring you up to this culvert and ask you, 'What's significant about this culvert?'"
The correct answer, in this case, is that the culvert is a choke point that restricts the unit's movements. In the mock village at Land Mine Warfare Training Area, it's also a location where a simulated IED is hidden.
Soldiers who visit the range for counter-IED instruction are typically early in their training cycle, Howells said, so the training is both basic and foundational.
The village includes four stations: stationary IEDs, suicide bombers and vehicle-borne IEDs, victim-operated IEDs and a homemade explosives lab. Cadre talk about common locations of IEDs, items used to make them and general indicators to look for.
"At the end of each station," Howells said, "we have it set up so they can go in and they can take a look at those types of IEDs or items used to make those IEDs, so they get more of a hands-on experience. All of these are representations of things that have actually been found in theater."
Pfc. Kyle Lamon, a Soldier in A Company, 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, who visited the range Oct. 22, said the training was "intensive."
"It's been very thorough," he said. "I'm a very hands-on learner, so seeing all this helps put my mind thinking in the place where things like this can happen. As you walk through the market, you can just kind of look around and you can notice tiny places and things that are out of the ordinary where people would put IEDs. It actually helps out a lot more having a visual of what's going on."
Lamon said he learned about trip wires, different types of ammunitions and how cell phones are hooked to explosives along with possible hiding places for IEDs."
The training lasts a full day and includes a M18A1 Claymore demonstration as well.
"In my mind, the counter IED training is probably one of the most important training events that the trainees do," said Howells, a former drill sergeant. "The trend has been for them to deploy within about 90 days of getting to their units, (and) IEDs are the No. 1 killer of Soldiers overseas. They can be made cheaply. They can do it remotely. All the components are readily available. They're not just Afghanistan and Iraq. You see them in the Philippines. You see them in Thailand. The Mexican cartels are starting to use them more. IEDs are a worldwide threat."