UDARI RANGE, NORTHERN KUWAIT--One sunny afternoon in the Kuwaiti desert, I caught up with 4th Brigade Combat Team Commander Col. Thomas James as he checked on his troops in training. That particular session was on convoys, specifically, moving high-value targets through the high-risk streets of Iraq.
"Do you all realize how important your mission is?" he asked his soldiers. "A personal security detachment that's out there securing a battalion commander or the command sergeant major plays an enormous role, 'cause they're always going out to the critical pieces of the battlefield."
That battlefield is often a neighborhood. A potentially very dangerous neighborhood. 1st Sgt. Richard Meiers is one of the Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans guiding soldiers through the training.
His focus, getting them to think, even before they move into encounters with the enemy. "Don't just think about the training aspect," he said. "I'm an American soldier, I'm going to rush in and I'm going to kill the enemy. They know that, they know that's our technique, they've watched us for five years now, they bait us. Guy with an RPG's going to show you in a window, you're going to want to chase in a room after him, or a guy, a sniper's going to shoot at you from a building, you're going to want to clear that building, and an IED's going to be hidden in the wall."
So I walked along as the team drilled in an urban training site. Pick a building, find a way to get in, clear it out, and get out safely. Staff Sgt. Paul Reynolds lead the unit, shouting instructions and information as small groups of four soldiers moved in and around a building not much bigger than two mobile homes stacked on top of each other. Among the keys, getting his soldiers to take their time and sort out their surroundings. Knowing where friendly forces are at all times and working together, to cover each other's every move.
After a few minutes in the building, they pull back, secure weapons and compare notes. Meiers gets them to step back and start at the beginning. "Before you make a decision to clear a building, or a courtyard, what other thoughts need to go through your mind before you make that decision to go in that building, go in that room, to chase that insurgent, into a dangerous situation?" he asked.
Meiers knows his troops well and thinks they're executing their training well. "They've got the mechanics down, they know how to clear rooms, we want them to start thinking as well," he said. "Start considering that the non-combatants that are in the area, the sounds, the noises, the decision that they made to go into that building to begin with. Do we even need to go into that building? I personally would say 75 percent of the time, no. You don't want to go into that building unless absolutely necessary."