CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo — It's a quiet night in a field near Ramjane i uletDonje Ramjane, Kosovo. The only sound to be heard is the sharp chirps of crickets and the soft rustle of tall grass blowing in the breeze. Invisible to the naked eye, moving stealthily, only able to be seen by using some form of night vision, a squad of Soldiers with Task Force Nightstalker, slide through the shadowy night like wraiths, undetectable, as they prepare to assault their objective.
On July 15, Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment (Light), Task Force Nightstalker, who are members of the California National Guard, conducted a night-fire training mission on a range near Camp Bondsteel. The training, which was a live-fire exercise, was conducted to create a simulated tactical environment in which the Nightstalker Soldiers could practice their infantry skills. With no real physical enemy there, the Soldiers used pop-up targets and their imaginations to create an opponent during the training mission.
The infantry squad slowly stalks forward through the field, scanning for threats. One of the troops spots an enemy gun emplacement and signals it to his squad. As orders are being passed a shot rings out. They have been spotted. Abandoning their silence the Nightstalker Soldiers shout out "contact one o'clock two-hundred meters!" and begin to send a wall of lead at their opponent.
"Taking the fight to the enemy is one of the most important jobs of an infantryman," said 1st Lt. Christopher A. Mitchell, a platoon leader with Delta Co. Always combat capable; the Nightstalker Soldiers are well versed in their trade. Able to use a vast array of weapons and equipment, the infantryman are well equipped to accomplish their mission.
"All our equipment helps us with our essential soldiering tasks. We use Nods [night vision devices] at night as well as thermal imaging systems as a combat multiplier," said Spc. Jorge Alcaraz, an 11B from Truckee, Calif.
Using their advanced weapons and equipment, the squad of Soldiers establishes their fire superiority. The squad's grenadier starts lobbing rounds from his M-203 grenade launcher at the enemy position while his squad leader begins relaying orders over the radio to a squad to his right. The red blur of tracer fire spits out of an M-249 Squad Assault Weapon as a machine gunner puts rounds on target to give his teammates time to reload.
The infantry is designed to push through to the enemy and quickly neutralize them. This is a skill that needs to be constantly honed and sharpened or it will become dull, said Mitchell, who is a Lincoln, Calif., native.
"AWT's [Army Warrior Tasks] are a perishable skill, if you don't practice them enough you will forget," said Alcaraz.
Even though Kosovo is a peacekeeping mission it is important to retain the skills an infantryman relies on to do his job. Whether fighting in a skirmish or facing off against a fixed enemy position, the infantry's maneuverability, weapons, and training give them the tools they need to accomplish the mission.
It is that maneuverability and combat effectiveness that earns the infantry its title of Queen of the Battle, a moniker many attribute to the game of chess and the queen's ability to move and strike anywhere on the board.
The 'Golden State' warriors continue to send rounds down range to their enemy, their squad leader finishes shouting out his orders and there is a pop and a hiss. A bright green light goes flying up into the air to briefly illuminate the enemy position. The infantry troops know this is a signal to shift their fire to allow the second squad a safe corridor to move toward the enemy position.
The ability to strike fast and destroy the enemy comes in part from the teamwork and cooperation required between the smallest maneuver elements.
"In the infantry everything is about teamwork regardless of what your doing, you have to work together as a team," said Alcaraz.
In the past the infantry would move in large block formations which intimidated the enemy and made it easier for commanders to relay orders to their troops.
With the advancement of technology and training, the infantry can now operate independently in groups as small as two to four man fire teams. With training that emphasizes thinking outside the box and knowing the job of the men to your left and your right, the modern day infantryman uses teamwork as one of his greatest assets against his enemy.
With their enemy pinned down by their teammates to their left, the second squad deploys a smoke grenade and advances toward the fortified position. Using nature, the night, and any available cover, the second squad creeps silently to the side of their enemy ready to flank. Approaching the side of the enemy emplacement in a pincer maneuver, an order is given over the radio to lift fire. While the enemy is still distracted trying to keep cover, the men of the second squad quickly move in and eliminate the opposition. The enemies are quickly searched while the two squad leaders communicate over the radio. The second squad pulls back to a safe distance while a lone soldier primes a grenade. He tosses it into the enemy gun emplacement and quickly rolls away in a textbook execution on destroying a bunker. The explosive detonates scattering dust, dirt, and debris up into the air. Before the dust has even settled the Soldiers have already left the area and moved on to their objective.
While no live explosives were actually used, the range was still hot and the Soldiers made sure to follow all the proper safety procedures. The troops conducted their training with the same caution and professionalism they put forth in their jobs of maintaining a safe and secure environment.
"The fact that Kosovo is a peacekeeping mission does not mean that infantry skills should be forgotten," said Mitchell. The same skills that keep the Soldiers sharp and ready for battle can be used in various ways to accomplish the KFOR mission. Whether stopping a riot, patrolling the countryside, looking for weapons caches, or performing in a sync patrol on the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL), the Delta Co. Soldiers use their teamwork and communication skills to their advantage.
"In the infantry you have to be flexible and you are always learning something," said Alcaraz.
Infantry Soldiers often fill roles they have not been previously trained for but their teamwork and flexibility give them what they need to get the job done.
With the right training and proper mindset, the Delta Co. Soldiers are alert and ready for anything, and are perfect examples of the Army National Guard's motto, "Always Ready, Always There!"