By David VergunFebruary 23, 2013
FORT IRWIN, Calif. (Army News Service, Feb. 21, 2013) -- Before the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team can qualify to become the first regionally aligned brigade assigned to U.S. Africa Command, they will need to deal with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, at the National Training Center here.
Some 2,700 of these opposing force Soldiers are throwing everything they can at about 4,000 "Dagger" Brigade Soldiers, as 2nd ABCT are called.
The bad guys are role-playing conventional force and their guerrilla force partners, along with insurgents and criminal elements.
The good guys are role-playing host-nation government and security forces that must be somehow integrated with U.S. forces, that desperately need to augment their forces.
And things could get ugly really fast if Dagger Soldiers mistakenly kill, insult or not assist the neutral civilians, militias and police who inhabit mock towns and refugee camps in the sprawling 1,100-square-mile area of the National Training Center, known as NTC. And some of these "neutrals" are role played by female Soldiers.
All of this decisive action training takes place in an intense, 14-day period ending March 1. That training is broken into two main parts that, in reality, occur simultaneously -- the conventional force-on-force and wide area security training. The latter includes counterinsurgency, humanitarian crises, cultural awareness and diplomacy.
This type of training is required by all brigades that rotate through NTC to meet required high readiness levels prior to deploying to any world region.
"Back in the 1980s during my first NTC rotation, we did all conventional force-on-force training," said Lt. Col. Jimmy Kimbrough, deputy commander of the 11th ACR, referring to training driven by Cold War-era doctrine.
During the last decade, the training focused on counterinsurgency aspects, since that was being done in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
Now, the training is even more complex with both parts. If the commander has most of his Soldiers engaged in fighting conventional forces, then "Black Horse" Soldiers, as the 11th ACR are called, will ramp up pressure in the rear with guerrilla and insurgent attacks, he said.
In response, the commander must re-balance his forces or risk being killed, sabotaged, or getting his supply line cut, he said.
It gets even worse than that, he said. In the case of Dagger brigade, a cholera epidemic is being simulated since that or something similar could occur in Africa, he said, noting that each unit that rotates through NTC gets customized training depending on anticipated mission requirements.
Add to that, the locals might be inundating the brigade with requests for medical attention, he said. Likewise, civilians displaced by the fighting will be asking for food and protection.
Also, insurgents might be inciting the civilian population to attack U.S. forces, accusing them of real or fabricated atrocities. Kimbrough said they might put up posters around the town or use sympathetic media outlets to rally their cause.
Dagger Soldiers must then use a variety of tactics to counter this propaganda and extend their own influence using MISO, or military information support operations, a new term the Army is using for what was formerly called psychological operations.
To accomplish MISO, Black Horse provides Dagger Soldiers with some 142 "friendly" translators to negotiate with the locals and soothe hurt feelings. These Soldiers are fluent in many languages including Armenian, Arabic, Amharic, Dari, Farsi, French, Hausa, Pashto, Somali, Sorani, Tajik and Urdu.
As an aside, those translators are often in high demand in the operating forces and some of them will usually be deployed in various places in the world to meet specific mission requirements.
Yet another wide area security threat is the criminal element, bent on making a profit no matter who they align with, Kimbrough said. To add to the realism, Black Horse Soldiers are outfitted in local garb and use mules to haul their contraband across the mountains and desert.
Those aren't the only animals used for role playing, he said. Black Horse Soldiers also use sheep, goats and horses in the scenarios.
All of these wide area concerns drain resources and personnel away from the fight and commanders will have to weigh the risks and benefits of whatever decisions they make, he said, adding that it causes a lot of real stress on the Soldiers.
In some cases, Soldiers take a course of action that is the least detrimental, he said. An example might be co-opting the criminal elements by bribing them with goods or money if they can in return provide actionable intelligence.
Soldiers also try to persuade or negotiate with enemy forces with the goal of splitting them into factions that might ally with friendly forces or end up fighting each other, creating a Black Horse on Black Horse situation.
KEEPING IT REAL
To put together a credible opposing force, Black Horse Soldiers have gone to great lengths to get the right mix of equipment, Kimbrough said.
That gear includes communications equipment, anti-aircraft weaponry, breaching vehicles, tanks, armored personnel carriers, unmanned aerial vehicles, simulated chemical weapons, helicopters, multiple-launch rocket systems and so on.
The helicopter squadron consists of former Soviet Sokol helicopters and the UAVs are Pumas, Ravens and Silver Foxes. Additionally, the 11th ACR employs the Army's only Stinger missile battery.
Most Soldiers are not used to facing these weapons in combat, Kimbrough said.
To distinguish friend from foe, the resourceful Black Horse Soldiers trick out their systems, for example, replacing tank barrels with large sections of PVC that are bigger than the original ones.
They also paint their equipment in a different color of tan and even tiger stripes. Black Horse logos are also painted on them. The Soldiers' uniforms are tan with no patterns.
Black Horse Soldiers often augment their own forces and equipment during training cycles, Kimbrough said.
On this rotation, the augmentees are Soldiers from the 3rd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, who brought with them their Stryker vehicles and M-777 howitzers, since 11th ACR doesn't have either. Sappers from the 25th Infantry Division are here as well, he said.
At any given time, there are 1,400 to 1,600 Black Horse Soldiers in "the box," as the training area is referred, and the remainder of the 2,707 Soldiers are in the rear area control center, monitoring events on the ground by radio and computer, he said.
Soldiers in the control center are getting the big picture of what's happening on the ground and control the rheostat, ramping up criminal activity, turning down conventional force, adding a refugee situation, and so on, he said.
"We create the right operational environment for learning to take place," Kimbrough said. "Scripts (for the scenarios) are used but there's also a lot of free play that we allow our Soldiers."
One of the most important aspects of the training is building trust. "Our motto is 'We Trust You,'" he said. "Soldiers need to know everyone is playing by the rules on a level playing field. Cheating is not tolerated."
To help ensure the playing field is level, he said a group of "Pale Horse" Soldiers within 11th ACR constantly monitor their own Soldiers on the ground. As for the Dagger Soldiers, Kimbrough said it is up to their leaders to ensure professionalism is maintained.
Kimbrough said to ensure Black Horse Soldiers keep their edge and don't become too complacent, they are rotated in their role-playing parts during unit rotations through NTC.
Now on his 30th rotation here, Kimbrough said he has yet to see a unit not attain a measurable improvement in performance at the end of each training cycle.
"We give them a lot of complex and tough challenges while they are here," he said, adding that they'll make mistakes, but it's better to make them here than in combat."
(Editor's note: This is the third article in a four-part series on the 2nd ABCT, 1ID training for alignment with U.S. AFRICOM. For more ARNEWS stories, visit www.army.mil/ARNews, or Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArmyNewsService)