Return to the Fight: Training the Third ID--Part I - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports


Return to the Fight: Training the Third ID--Part I

In a matter of months, thousands of Coastal Empire soldiers will return to the scorching sands of Iraq. For the past few weeks, they've trained at Fort Polk, Louisiana, to prepare. WTOC's Dal Cannady spent a few days with the soldiers in their last real tests before their deployment.

From Iraqi nationals to goats, trainers want soldiers to think and react just like they're in Iraq. They put every effort to make things as hectic and realistic as they can.

If you listened to an angry mob of Iraqi role-players for a few minutes, looked at their clothes and some of their faces, and ignored the pine trees, it was easy to imagine yourself in an Iraqi village and not central Louisiana.

Fort Polk's Joint Readiness Training Center hires hundreds of local civilians to team with Iraqi nationals to paint a realistic image for troops in training. Units test themselves in each of six simulated training exercises--or STEX lanes.

Instructors call it invaluable for troops who'll serve in Iraq. Iraqi role-player Abed Alsned told us, "You've got to choose the right people to give them lectures, to make sure they understand the culture and how to deal with women in terms of how to deal with men and the religion, because there is a different dialogue in different cities just like Louisiana is different than Los Angeles."

In one scenario we witnessed, a convoy must come through a market full of fighting. The people are protesting a merchant who's raised his prices. The soldiers must negotiate their ways amidst the protest and a few surprises.

Iraqi police explain the problem to the platoon leader and her interpreter. They learn the shouting, even the AK-47s some of the Iraqis are holding, aren't meant for them. The look on her face says this isn't a drill anymore. As they plot their next move, a rocket-propelled grenade raises the level of tension.

"It gets you going," said Sgt. Anthony Sigmund. "Your voice range goes up 10 to 20 decibels with all the emotion and the noise going on and it does get your blood pressure up."

The unit slowly and peacefully pushes its way through the frenzy as customers demand the merchant be arrested. This in-your-face confrontation that could result from cultural differences will keep soldiers on their toes.

Then just when it looks like things will go smoothly, another RPG strikes a parked truck.

In the melee, soldiers become separated and vulnerable to attack. The platoon leader reads a simulation card, informing her she's been stabbed. In all the smoke and noise, others must get her back to the convoy and into an ambulance.

While a casual observer could see their efforts as confusion and failure, instructors do not. "I would say the unit performed their battle drills well considering the circumstances," said SSgt. Steve White. "There is a very real possibility the unit will face something like this in country and this provides a great training experience."

"There's a lot of things going through your head, a lot of stress," said Sgt. Anthony Sigmund. "Your mind is racing a mile a minute, a thousand miles a minute."

But if soldiers can react well in the fake smoke and tension, they stand a better chance of making it alive through the real thing.

With the yelling and the shooting, it is really easy to forget you're in Cajun country and react like you're in an Iraqi marketplace.

Coming up tomorrow, we'll see how pilots are put through their paces and the individual challenges they face as they return to the fight.

Reported by: Dal Cannady,


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