News: 'Playtime' prepares soldiers for Wartime experience
Story by Spc. Justin Snyder
FORT POLK, La. – All was calm amidst the mock village of Khaista at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La., as soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, rolled through on a routine convoy.
Locals lined the streets, shouting and waving, some with the intent to sell their respective fruits and supplies to soldiers, while others begged for the chance to speak with troops.
This was nothing out of the norm, just another day in the life of soldiers training on a combat convoy training lane at JRTC. The soldiers took part in five scenario-driven events at different locations throughout mock Afghan cities.
In the blink of an eye, however, things went from ordinary to disastrous.
During the convoy, Humvees escorted various civilian contractor vehicles. One of the villagers on the streets approached one of the civilian trucks. The truck struck the Afghan vendor, sending havoc throughout the village.
As the man lay in street screaming in pain, the local mood changed from curious to angry. No longer were they selling fruits, but using them as projectiles. People now screamed in fury, not in support.
The guilty driver was ripped from his seat and taken into the office of the Khaista mayor. There would be repercussions if the soldiers did not move fast enough to correct the issue.
Through an interpreter, Capt. Travis Stuttes, chief of one of the Security Force Assistance Teams, spoke with the village elder trying to calm the situation, while a medic worked on the bleeding leg of the struck pedestrian.
Amidst the ruckus, standing calmly with his advisers, Master Sgt. Matt McGregor, combat convoy lane non-commissioned officer in charge, was taking mental notes and plotting the next action for the scenario.
“Here, failure is an option,” said McGregor, a native of Springfield, Ill. “Picture your worst day ever in country and that’s what we give them here. We hit them with a little bit of everything.”
For the soldiers participating, that may seem like an understatement.
“Man, they never stopped coming at us with the scenarios,” said Stuttes, a native of Crowley, La. “No sooner had I settled the issues with the Mayor and gotten our driver back, we were attacked with a [rocket propelled grenade] and we had a disabled vehicle and injured soldiers to care for.”
And this wasn’t even the beginning for the Soldiers. Twenty-Four to 48 hours prior, the unit was already preparing for the trek by using knowledge, maps and information given to them by the advisers.
“We give them everything possible to help prepare them for the lanes,” said McGregor. “We want them to come in here prepared to ensure the best possible results.”
At the second stop soldiers were forced to react to multiple types of improvised explosive devices and enemy snipers.
As the combat convoy continued on, soldiers entered a third village where they were greeted by a suicide vest bomber and a vehicle borne IED. They also had to treat six to 10 civilian casualties as a result of these attacks.
“We expose the soldiers to every possible type of scenario they could encounter down range,” said McGregor, who has deployment experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo.
The fourth event had the soldiers defending themselves from a complex attack and nine to 11 opposing enemy forces, while the fifth and final event had them setting up a helicopter landing zone and loading casualties onto a helicopter for departure.
Following the combat convoy, the soldiers took part in an extensive after action review where they analyzed video of their experience and got tips from the advisers on how to improve their tactical troop procedures.
“It’s always great to see what we did wrong and did right,” said 1st Lt. Chris Rutherford, 2nd BCT, 101st Airborne Div., SFAT. “The only thing we can get from that is knowledge and that’s how we are going to get better.”
Rutherford, who has never deployed, was especially happy about his ability to communicate with the role-playing civilians through the use of interpreters.
The lanes included 120 actors plus an additional 35 cultural-specific role players.
“These people working here are as authentic as you can get,” said Rutherford, a native of Evergreen, Colo. “And I have a very limited knowledge and amount of experience working with the Afghani people, so the more real it is the better.”
Stuttes, who has deployed to Afghanistan, agreed that the training was very realistic.
“JRTC does such a good job of giving us real authentic training that will benefit the most experienced soldier the same as a young soldier.”
Feedback from recently deployed soldiers and a constant study of foreign procedures and tactics are the focal point that allows the training to be realistic
“Right here, this is the best training that the Army provides,” said McGregor. “Everything here is the latest and greatest and that’s what is going to keep our troops ahead of the game. We want these guys to come home safe and that’s what is most important.”