Updated 01/25/2011 08:31 AM
Force on Force: Part 2: Preparing the soldiers
It's a week like no other for Fort Drum's 3rd Brigade Combat Team. In Louisiana to train for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, the soldiers find themselves smack in the middle of the action. It's called Force on Force and they have their fair share of both success and failure. Our Brian Dwyer had an exclusive invitation to witness the training first hand. In part two of his series, Brian tells us more about the mission that lies ahead and how close the soldiers are to being ready.
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FORT POLK, La. -- On Fort Polk, soldiers of the 3rd Brigade are spread out over five different bases. Most are separated by about an hour. But it's clear the mission is one and leaders want to make sure everyone is on the same page.
"I think we all feel the pressure to get the brigade ready to go to combat," said Col. Patrick Frank, 3rd BCT Commander.
"Not only do I have to worry about my skills, I have to worry about their skills. So I'm constantly asking them questions and quizzing them," said Spec. Steven Retherford, 7-10 Combat Medic.
Even though this is just training, it's here you learn how to not only succeed, but stay alive.
"This is the place to make mistakes so you don't have to make mistakes when you're deployed to Afghanistan," 7-10 Combat Medic Spec. Brian Bautista said.
By late Monday morning, it's all put to the test. Everything now run exactly like it would in Afghanistan. One second before noon, at 11:59:59, Force on Force begins.
Two suspected terrorists are spotted in the woods and a shootout begins. The two are wanted for an attack just minutes earlier. A ceremony celebrating a new well, providing fresh water for a whole village is bombed, twice. Casualties start piling up. Panic among the villagers ensues.
"It gets hectic because everyone's trying to do their part," said PV 2 Troy Lewis, a medic.
The celebration is now a rescue. Those soldiers still standing, doing what they can. In total chaos, doing the best they can. But it's quickly apparent it's not good enough.
"In terms of a reaction, it was a bit messy," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Mintz, 1-31 Commander. "If we could have done this again, I think we'd have had a better casualty evacuation plan, a better medical evacuation plan and we would have had those assets staged closer to the event."
"It really prepares you because with these situations, you see the things you need to work on personally and as a team," said Lewis.
A disaster that's part of the reason the U.S.'s success overseas isn't what it could be.
Trust. It's one of the hardest things for soldiers to earn, but it's the easiest to lose. Tragedies like this lead to hours upon hours of discussions and attempts to mend fences.
"If we don't help the villagers, then the people here, they're going to join the Taliban," said Omar Omid Ali Khail, an Afghan villager role player.
"How do you say, 'Hey, you know, I know this really terrible thing happened, but hey, tomorrow's a new day and we can get better?'" asked Mintz.
One way to do that, is have success. And just a short time later, Mintz's soldiers would have it. A Pakistan man causing a serious problem in the village.
"It turns out this man refused to cooperate with the village elder and took a family hostage," said 2nd Lt. Kellen Petersen, 1-32 Platoon Leader.
And these soldiers, keeping focused on the overall mission, help the Afghan National Army take the lead and not only enter the home, but survive a shootout and save the entire family.
"I do appreciate the Coalition Forces were here today to help us with the mission and that we captured the guy and also we can have some peace and stability in the village," said Aman Ali Khail, another role player.
The 3rd BCT soldiers here say it's absolutely amazing to see the Afghan National Army take care of a situation by themselves because it means they're one step closer to being self-sufficient.
"It's obviously very good to see and very important to use because that means we don't have to be here anymore," said Capt. Tom Overmeyer.
Tomorrow, Brian will give us a different kind of perspective on the 3rd Brigade's training in Louisiana. In part three of our series on Force on Force, we'll see it all through the eyes of one of the combat team's young leaders.