JERICHO, Vt. - Before Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers arrive at Camp Johnson's counter improvised explosive device training lanes, Lesley Urban prepares and organizes the field, littering it with hidden roadside bombs.
Long before the sun rose and Soldiers put on their boots, Lesley Urban, a contractor with the Vermont Army National Guard, is already at work for several hours preparing improvised explosive device training lanes for the incoming Army Reserve and National Guard companies.
Urban, who is also a master sergeant in the Vermont National Guard, is no stranger to IEDs, or the threat they pose.
“I’ve been deployed to Afghanistan four times for a total of five years,” said Urban. “The Afghan people are an amazing people, I really respect them. But, you take the good with the bad. I’ve been hit by IEDs a couple times so I take my job very seriously.”
Jerry Morgan, another counter-IED instructor says, while training units go through the IED training lanes, this is the time to make mistakes and learn from them.
“We call them teachable moments,” said Morgan. “It’s good when they mess up because we can help them find what they missed and we can teach from their mistakes so they won’t make them again.”
The lanes are intended to be as real as possible. Minus the shockwave from the blasts, which do the most bodily damage, the mock roadside bombs do their part in teaching Soldiers how to react in the event of an IED attack.
“This is all for muscle memory,” said Urban. “Doing it over and over again so you know how to react should you come under IED attack. Action is always a good thing, complacency and indecisiveness will get you killed.”
Morgan says he teaches Soldiers how to spot the indications of a potential roadside bombs: sticks laid on the ground and bits of cloth hanging from a tree branch are tactics used to time the interval between passing targets and tell the enemy when to activate their explosives.
Seventy-percent of IEDs are found using your eyes, said Morgan. “There are no straight lines in nature, humans make them. We train guys to spot those anomalies.”
Morgan, a former master sergeant in the Marine Corps, worked for the Joint IED Defeat Organization and worked on systems and equipment for IED detection, detonation, and other safety measures for Soldiers deployed in areas which IEDs are commonly used.
“The thing is, a lot of units view counter-IED training as a pre-deployment task,” said Urban. “They say ‘we’re not deploying,’ so they may not give it as much interest as they should. But like all warrior tasks, if you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it.”
Morgan and Urban have worked together for almost three years. Both train Soldiers on how to use IED detection systems, but agree individual Soldiers using their eyes and trusting their gut are the best defense against IEDs.
“The first time I deployed, IED training was unheard of,” said Urban. “The second time they told us to watch for stacked rocks, which are all over Afghanistan. Now the training is effective and it makes a difference.”
As a trainer, Urban says he provides as real an environment as possible, cleverly hiding IEDs in brush that a passerby could easily miss. Passing by these mock roadside bombs typically results in a loud bang, a puff of smoke, and Urban calling on the radio that a vehicle is disabled.
“I take my work seriously,” said Urban. “I treat every unit like they are my own unit. I give them the most realistic training environment I can.”
Urban prepares the training lanes as early as 4:30 in the morning on days that Reserve or National Guard units are training. Typically working until 10 at night, Urban says he does this because you can’t just check the box when training Soldiers.
“I do this because I love it,” said Urban. “It’s these young Soldiers that keep me coming back. If I can teach them something then it’s worth it.”
Morgan and Urban agree IEDs are one of the greatest threats against the military. Urban says IEDs are a weapon of choice because they can cost less than $7 to make a threat real, pointing out the Boston Marathon bombing as a prime example.
“The threat of IEDs is never going away,” said Urban. “We’re moving out of Afghanistan, but IEDs are being used around the world.”
The threat may be real, but Urban says with the right training and attention to detail, the effectiveness of attacks can be mitigated or eliminated.
“Not one person can defeat an IED,” said Urban. “But collectively you can make plans on how to react to an IED, train on those plans, develop them and that’s how you can win.”