FORT IRWIN, Calif. – A truck charges across the open desert toward 3rd Platoon, 562nd Engineer Company’s morning convoy, is fired on and explodes. The smoke billowing over the Mojave Desert begins 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division’s rotation into the box at the National Training Center.
Third Platoon’s mission was to gather as much information about the route as they could to include: dangers that exist from the opposition force acting as a local terrorist cell, obstacles that might hinder future operations in the area and general feelings toward American soldiers operating in the area.
The platoon was happy to take on the mission, eager to show off its ability to accomplish a route reconnaissance and demonstrate the platoon’s level of teamwork. Over the course of the situational training exercise the combat trainers at the NTC challenged 3rd Platoon with many different obstacles. The platoon reacted to situations varying from a complex ambush, including snipers and a vehicle born improvised explosive device, to encountering a civilian trying to fix a truck with a flat tire.
Over the first day of training hard lessons were learned. The unit continued to build on the skills they brought with them and took full advantage of the training here.
“I was quite impressed with my guys performance,” said Sgt. 1st Class Shawn McGuire, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon. “The only training we have done as a platoon involved route clearance and it was on a very controlled route in a controlled environment. Today was a lot different. It’s definitely different terrain than we are used to and different scenarios than a lot of us have dealt with as a team.”
“It takes time to build a team and get into a grove,” said Sgt. Matthew Chupp, leader of 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon. “Just like everything in life, your not an expert at everything your first time out.”
During the first event the combat trainers sent a nondescript van driving through the platoons formation in order to evaluate how the teams would react.
According to the trainers, 3rd Platoon did a good job at following the rules of engagement. If they had targeted the vehicle it would have caused unnecessary civilian casualties and rallied the opposition force to make the area a more hostile environment.
The final event of the day didn’t pass by as mundanely. Opposition forces using rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire attacked the convoy during a complex ambush, as they stopped to check out a decoy IED.
“It’s amazing how fast things can go wrong if your not paying attention,” said Spc. Roy Carlton, a gunner with 3rd Platoon, “Complacency is the biggest risk; don’t get complacent.”
The platoon maneuvered to suppress the enemy and evacuate mock casualties as they set up a helicopter-landing zone.
Communication and teamwork was essential in the successful ability to defend themselves as well as evacuating the casualties said Carlton.
“There is always room for improvement,” said Carlton.
The NTC provided the platoon diverse, realistic scenarios with equipment, terrain and opposition forces. The unit would not be able to achieve this level of training at their home station.
“This training area is very similar to what these soldiers might experience while deployed,” said Chupp. “The same techniques they use downrange are used here to prepare us.”
“We wouldn’t be able to do anything like this at Fort Lewis,” said Carlton, from New Albany, Ind. “This is definitely an eye opener with the large, grand scale of this training.”
“This is good training to get them prepared,” said Chupp, “About 60 percent of these guys have never deployed before.”
At the end of the STX, the platoon gathered around the combat trainer and discussed what had happened during the day’s mission.
“We have a very good base of knowledge to start from,” said McGuire, “This was a learning experience for the leaders and soldiers as to what we need to work on and how we are going to improve what we are doing already.”
“The CTs are seeing the events from a different angle,” said Carlton, “Every input the CTs give us is helpful to make a better plan than we already have and the more we work together the easier things become.”
After the STX and the after action review 3rd Platoon headed back to forward operating base Denver to reset their equipment, rest and mull over the day’s events.
“This is day one and we will stay focused on what’s important and build the team from here,” said McGuire.