CAMP JOHNSON, Vt. – Every great story features an antagonist who is equally as powerful and influential as its protagonist. Batman has the Joker, Spider-man has the Green Goblin and Superman has Lex Luthor. But whom does the 94th Military Police Company, out of Londonderry, N.H., have? Well, they have the 94th Military Police Company.
Soldiers from the 94th’s Operations Platoon traded in their Army Combat Uniform for black coats and facemasks, and their rifles for paintball markers and simulated improvised explosive devices. This transformation was done in an effort to better train their comrades by providing a real-life enemy while they participated in situational training lanes at a field training exercise (FTX) at Camp Johnson, Vermont, May 16–18, 2014.
“Operations runs the company,” said Cpl. Shayna Provencal, a military policeman with the 94th MPs. “We need to make sure that they’re up to the standards of their training and that they understand why we are training them in certain things.”
Together, these Soldiers created a group commonly known throughout the Army as Opposing Force, or OPFOR, combatants. Their mission for the FTX is to create chaotic situations for the platoons participating in the lanes by establishing ambush points, stationary IEDs, and creating an overwhelming simulated combat situation. To ensure a unique experience for each iteration of the lanes, the OPFOR improvise different scenarios based on the how they react to the situation.
“We’re trying to simulate a complex attack where there was a roadside IED, or artillery, followed by small-arms fire,” said Staff Sgt. Douglas Rodoski, a military policeman and OPFOR combatant. “They fought their way through it and continued without stopping – we would have done a couple other things if they had stopped or had a disabled vehicle.”
“Different scenarios can unfold if the vehicle is down,” said Rodoski, a Newmarket, N.H., native. “They’ve got to protect or recover the personnel from the downed vehicle while dealing with the complex attack.”
This FTX was designed to help prepare the company for its annual two-week training that is scheduled to be at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, this summer. To ensure that the OPFOR perform at a standard that will prepare the company for their annual training, they rely heavily on up-to-date classes on modern battlefield tactics.
“There was an excellent class given last night on IEDs,” said Rodoski. “When we set up these dummy IEDs, we try to camouflage them effectively. Secondary IEDs are also a threat in theatre, so we try to simulate them while setting up.”
“We need to make it as realistic as possible for them,” said Provencal, a Londonderry, N.H., native. “We need to make sure it’s not unrealistic and we’re just running around – we need to make sure that we’re going to act how the enemy is going to act.”
In order for the line platoons to successfully navigate the training lanes, they are going to have to work together as a team, maintain strong communication, and adapt to the various scenarios that the OPFOR have planned for them. It’s these same principles that allow the OPFOR to operate successfully as a challenging opponent, and having that strong opponent can be the difference between a successful mission and a failed mission.
“Running exercises with no OPFOR is useless,” said Cpl. David Powe, an OPFOR combatant and mechanic with the 94th. “With OPFOR being around, we have role-players, we have something to engage, we can actually do our job. I think it’s incredibly important.”
Facing a formidable opponent during a training exercise like this does more than just give the Soldiers another challenge to overcome while they prepare for their annual training later this year; it also prepares them for a very real and lethal enemy in a deployed environment. So, when it comes to training, the more extreme the situation, the better prepared the Soldier.
“You’re faced with the extreme of extremes during training so you’re prepared for that instead of prepared for little stuff and get hit with the big stuff later,” said Powe. “It’s stuff like this that helps keep us alive downrange. It’s important that we do things like this.”
Training for the Soldiers of the 94th MP Company is something they take very seriously. However, like most training exercises not everything goes to according to plan, no matter how well thought out those plans are – sometimes the extremity of the training will result in a platoon failing its mission.
According to Powe, failure is what makes training so important. It exposes the weaknesses of the platoon and allows it to make corrections, offer remedial training, and better prepare its Soldiers for real combat situations where the difference a mistake makes could be life or death.
“It’s better to fail here than it is to fail downrange,” he said.
Whether a superhero trying to thwart his evil nemesis in a fictional metropolis, or a Soldier training for the day he’s called upon to protect his country, it’s important to have a good bad-guy. And for the Soldiers of the 94th MP Company’s Operations Platoon, it’s good to be bad.