By Sgt. Mike Pryor
2nd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - The paratroopers reacted calmly when their convoy hit an ambush. They didn't lose their cool when a simulated improvised explosive device went off, disabling one vehicle and sending thick clouds of smoke into the air.
It was training. They had done it a thousand times.
But then, as they began their usual procedures to evacuate the casualties, Capt. Benjamin Morales decided to change the script a little bit.
"Everyone in the vehicle is knocked out and the doors are combat locked!" he shouted. "Now, what?"
Morales' words sent the paratroopers scrambling back to their vehicle to find the tools necessary to open the locked doors and free their comrades. Suddenly, the exercise had taken on a new urgency.
Forcing paratroopers to think one step ahead and develop standard operating procedures for a variety of combat scenarios was the goal during situational training exercises for mounted operations conducted by 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division at Camp Taji Jan. 26.
"My goal was to get guys used to mounted operations. I want to make sure that they're up to speed on everything that goes into the mounted portion of our mission," said Morales, commander of Company B, 1st Bn., 325th AIR.
Getting reacquainted with mounted operations is a top priority for the "Red Falcons" because this deployment is coming directly on the heels of a five-month tour in another part of Iraq where they rarely used vehicles on their missions, Morales said.
"We primarily worked dismounted and air assaults," he said.
Tactics and technology change so fast that five months can be a lifetime, so Co. B has spent much of its time since arriving at Camp Taji getting back on familiar terms with mounted operations.
"Everything you do in the Army is perishable, and if you don't work on it, you're going to lose it," said Staff Sgt. Royce Achterberg a platoon sergeant with Co. D, 1st Bn., 325th AIR from Houston.
The day's lane training involved sending each platoon in a convoy of vehicles along a pre-planned route and confronting them with several different situations, including an unauthorized checkpoint, an IED and an ambush by insurgents.
Achterberg described the training as the culmination of all the techniques and procedures the battalion had been working on over the last several weeks.
"It, basically, just lets the Soldiers know where they're at," he said.
After each run was complete, Morales gathered his paratroopers for an after-action review to discuss what went well and what could be done differently. It was a luxury they wouldn't have once they go out into sector, he told them.
"There is no AAR outside the wire. Your AAR is your buddy lying on the ground," he told them.
Pfc. Stephen McMullen, a medic with Co. B, said he didn't need any reminders of how important it is to take the training seriously. He's the one who has to patch up the wounded if they go out unprepared.
"As far as I'm concerned," McMullen said, "I think it's good that we train as often as we can on this stuff."