News: Paratroopers refine warfighting skills at JRTC
Story by Staff Sgt. Matthew Winstead
FORT POLK, La. — Paratroopers from all six battalions of 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, traveled to the hot and humid Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana during the first few days of August to conduct training that will polish and renew their existing knowledge of their finest craft: combat.
The training, also known as a “rotation,” is a complex chain of scenarios and evolving events that test the abilities of a unit at every level. The rotation is designed to adapt to the strengths and weaknesses of every element from the highest members of command all the way down to the team, even individual levels.
The training is divided up into three main parts, each with a different set of goals and training objectives. The first part is the situational training exercise lanes, or STX lanes, where the moving elements and ground fighters of the six battalions will get a feel for the training environment and slowly progress through short scripted training events with definite objectives.
The second phase is the command planning exercise or CPX. This phase consists of focusing on the decision-making abilities of the chain of command from bottom to top. Commanders and leaders are placed in situations where the choices they make will directly affect the outcome on the ground for their paratroopers.
In the final phase, all of the training culminates in a large, direct force-on-force event, usually lasting around five days.
The notional enemy is called the opposing force, or OPFOR, is made up of soldiers from 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment. A sister unit to 4-25’s very own 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment. This group of specifically trained paratroopers is taught to provide units constant and direct conflict, often much harder than anything an American soldier may face in actual combat.
Soldiers from the 1-509th also play the part of the fictional host country’s army and police, reflecting the partnership roles and cooperative missions with host defense forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Trainer/Mentors, or TMs, oversee every aspect of the rotation. They act as referees, enforcing the rules that govern the exercise and observing the performance of the training unit. The TMs will review what they see during the after-action reviews, or AARs, that follow the training.
The training also includes the use of Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System, or MILES, gear, a military specific set of laser equipment similar to laser tag, which allows the soldiers to attack and engage the OPFOR with real weapons but without lethal ammo. The soldiers use blank ammunition to simulate the recoil and real-world loading of ammunition, but the enemy and training units are never in any danger from real shots being fired. Soldiers “killed” during training are taken to a consolidation point and brought back into the fight after a thorough AAR to see how they can improve on their performance.
Even the area impact of large weapon systems are simulated via the use of a rapid response system of fire markers mounted on four-wheel all-terrain vehicles.
The training is intended to simulate real combat as closely as possible. Soldiers are exposed to hard days, reduced sleep, social hardships and a demanding climate, even more challenging or soldiers coming from Alaska where current temperatures have been a mild 60-70 degrees. Fort Polk has sustained an average of 100 degree-plus weather and near 90 percent humidity since May.