News: Recon platoon wields Excalibur at the NTC
Story by Sgt. Mark Miranda
FORT IRWIN, Calif. – By the light of a full midnight moon, the soldiers of Headquarters, Headquarters Company 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment prepared Strykers and humvees for a training mission. They would convoy from Forward Operating Base Seattle to a remote location, and act on intelligence provided for the mission simulation.
“We’re given an intel packet coming in, a general overview of the area. It outlines what work has been done, what areas need improvement and kind of describes what the relationship is with the local Afghan National Security Forces,” said Capt. Daniel Capozza, a native of Cooperstown, N.Y., and commander HHC 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment.
This morning’s mission is to take down a high-value target: an improvised explosive device maker named Mohammed Wahib.
“We’ll bring the recon platoon to an observation point near the target, a house where Wahib is staying according to the intelligence report. The platoon will call for [an artillery] fire mission to drop precision munitions on him. If we can kill or capture this guy, it will save lives,” said Capozza.
The precision munition used for this exercise was an Excalibur, a high explosive round.
The HHC 1-17 Infantry recon platoon was especially chosen for this mission because of its capabilities.
“Almost all of the soldiers on the recon platoon qualified for their spot through tryouts. A group of them went through sniper training. These guys are all studs selected from companies across the battalion,” said Spc. Jesse Border, a combat medic from Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Role players coming along on the convoy include interpreters and Afghan soldiers to act as enablers, giving those participating in the mission some additional capabilities such as security and the ability to interact with the local population.
“This training is important; it’s a test to see that the brigade is ready to go. It takes a lot of resources to manage all the different pieces that go into this,” said Capozza.
“This is as close as the Army can provide to replicate conditions in Afghanistan. Running through some of the exercises or just living in these conditions, some of the soldiers that have been deployed have been very responsive,” said Capozza, who has deployed twice.
“Some we have to sort of reel back in and remind that it’s just an exercise. We’ve had mass casualty exercises where soldiers who have actually lost limbs are brought in drenched in fake blood to participate. The effects and realism add stress elements to the training,” Capozza said.
Hours before sunrise, the soldiers gather by their vehicles for a convoy briefing to review the route, safety measures, everybody’s role and the actual mission.
The route they will travel runs from FOB Seattle to a town called Ertabat Shar, and has been attacked twice in the last two days with simulated improvised explosive devices. A team of explosive ordnance disposal soldiers will also accompany the convoy.
When it begins, movement is slow and deliberate and when the convoy nears its objective the vehicles turn off their service lights and drive in “blackout” conditions to remain undetected.
When the target, little more than a wooden shack is within view, the vehicles take up strategic positions. From these observation points, radio chatter between them is dedicated to rehearsing the strike.
From two miles away, the Excalibur round’s detonation is not too impressive, resembling a small match ignited and immediately blown out, though with a lot of smoke. Up close, the $250,000 Excalibur round is shown to have completely laid waste to the building. A site exploitation team goes in to gather what information it can from any equipment, documents and biometric data from those killed or wounded.
The body parts of dummies brought in to represent the insurgents within are scattered in every direction several yards from where the building stood, making it difficult to first determine how many insurgents were inside.
“This [site exploitation] has to be a quick process. In the time it takes for our vehicles to get to the target site, bag up evidence, photos and all, the enemy is wondering where these guys are and are making their way back here where we’re bunched up and vulnerable,” said Sgt. 1st Class Lawrence Bassey, platoon sergeant for recon platoon.
Combat Trainers from the NTC speak with team leaders following the exercise. The platoons were placed exactly where they needed to be, the mission was completed safely. All the prior evening’s planning and coordinating done by Capozza, Bassey and their team has left them sleepless, but successful.