TULAROSA, N.M. – As the sun went down over nearby mountains, cloaking the surrounding desert in vibrant shades of orange and purple, choruses of laughter and salsa music were among the sounds echoing through the usually quiet expanse. In the village of Tula, in a central courtyard surrounded by walls littered with laundry and propaganda posters, a rowdy game of football was underway.
Tula isn’t a typical village – comprised of a trailer and a handful of fabricated stone structures, it is home to approximately twenty residents. They are the soldiers of Company C, 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, and they’ve lived here less than three days.
Scattered across the training areas of White Sands Missile Range, Dona Ana Range Complex and Fort Bliss, soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division are participating in the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation 13.2.
NIE is a series of semi-annual exercises to integrate and mature the Army’s tactical communications network. While they assess network and non-network capabilities to connect troops across the battlefield, they are also conducting tactical operations as a fully deployable unit to keep their soldier skills sharp.
To help them accomplish the mission, the soldiers of Company C don civilian clothing and move around the desert as role players in a detailed scenario in which they operate as the opposing forces. Life as the enemy however isn’t entirely combat and insurgency.
“Quality of life here is very relaxed,” said Sgt 1st Class Rodel Barrameda, Company C first sergeant. “It’s designed to mimic life in an actual village.”
Like many real villages, the soldiers fill roles as people from all walks of life: some are everyday citizens who cooperate with American forces and some are insurgents. They take their characters very seriously, and have gone so far as to elect a mayor and a police chief.
Living together in austere conditions like Tula has strengthened the bonds of camaraderie within the unit.
“Interacting with the other platoons is nice because out here, it’s everybody together,” said Spc. Christopher Lumpkin, an M1 armor crewman from Odessa, Texas, who is now a member of the fictional insurgency. “In our down time, we play soccer, throw the football around, and wait for the (2/1 AD) soldiers to show up.”
Prior to engagements with the “enemy” forces of 2/1 AD, the company discusses their tactics. Before a night raid on their village by elements of the 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 2/1 AD soldiers on May 13, company commander Capt. Jeff Johnson gathered his troops on the outskirts of the tiny village to remind them to think and act like insurgents.
“Try not to get decisively engaged, try to walk away and use some tactical patience,” encouraged Johnson.
After nods of agreement and final touches to their plan of attack, he left them with a final question.
“This is your base of operation, this is your house,” he reminded. “Would you fight inside your house?”
After more than ten engagements with their enemy, they say the 2/1 AD soldiers aren’t the only ones gaining experience from the interactions with Company C.
“We’ve had to learn to be smart insurgents,” laughed Barrameda. “Learning how to be an insurgent, when we deploy again, it will definitely help out in anticipating what the insurgents might do to us.”
“It’s a different point of view to watch the tactics of another unit,” admitted Lumpkin. “When they make mistakes, I learn from that too, as a soldier and an insurgent.”
In the twilight hours of the remote desert, the salsa music resumed in the village of Tula and the soldiers of Charlie Company got back into character. Several soldiers slipped off into the darkness to do what insurgents do: emplace improvised explosive devices, hide caches of weapons and assume positions at ambush points.
At the same moment, far away from the insurgency in Tula, soldiers of the 2/1 AD forged their own mission plans, checked their equipment and prepared to meet the Soldiers of Company C once again.