By Sgt. Adam L. MathisNovember 21, 2012
YAKIMA, Wash. (Nov. 21, 2012) -- The Soldiers knelt on the ground, facing the suspicious van with weapons ready. The van's occupants called from inside, asking for supplies and aid for someone who was injured, but the Soldiers refused to approach.
They would not be fooled.
Eventually, those in the van gave up on tricking the Soldiers, but decided to leave a present: They dumped their injured comrade on the ground and drove off. An unidentified, injured man left at the doorstep of a U.S. Army tactical operations center just gave the Soldiers another training opportunity -- securing, treating and interrogating him.
This scenario was part of a 17th Fires Brigade training exercise at Yakima Training Center during the first half of November. The people in the van were Soldiers playing the role of enemy scouts instructed to harass the trainees and target critical equipment.
"It's kind of a joke that we're out here to ruin everybody's day," said 2nd Lt. Randy Thomas of Gwinn, Mich., one of the leaders of the "enemy force." "We're making them do their jobs; we're making them pull security 24 hours [a day] during their 24-hour (operations)."
"Every unit should be moving in a tactical way as if they were in combat and if they aren't, then we definitely select those soft targets -- trucks that don't have a gun escort, trucks that don't have mounted weapons."
The training put 17th Fires into a different kind of conflict than the Army has been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of counterinsurgency operations, which involve small groups of Soldiers fighting against an enemy using guerrilla-style tactics, this training placed the Soldiers in the middle of a larger conflict, similar to the style of World War II.
To create a large conflict with only one brigade, computers generated virtual allies and enemies for Soldiers to interact with. Enemies fired at simulated friendly forces, forcing leaders at the brigade to call for return fire.
"We want to give the brigade headquarters a full workout in a fairly intense scenario," said Col. Ken Kamper, 17th Fires brigade commander, of Bradenton, Fla.
The workout involved more than the headquarters staff. Second Lt. Christopher Scherrer, maintenance platoon leader with 657th Forward Support Company, of Sacramento, Calif., put his Soldiers through a convoy range multiple times to practice getting out of vehicles and fighting the enemy in proper formation.
"This has been a little different than what we're used to ... but these guys have been amazing so far dealing with fog, snow, a little bit of rain here and there," Scherrer said.
The training gave many artillery Soldiers a chance to do their jobs for the first time. Spc. Cesar Zertuche Jr., of Killeen, Texas, came to the unit after graduating from Advanced Individual Training and deployed to Iraq where his unit advised and trained Iraqi forces. It was not until this training that Zertuche, a gunner for a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, got to fire a rocket.
"Even with the curtains shut, you still see a huge flash and your truck is just shaking back and forth, and it feels good," Zertuche said. "Like, once you feel that shake you know that rocket's going downrange, your mission's complete."