The latest “rush to war”

This was on yesterday’s front page in the Grand Rapids Press:

The caption reads:

Different atmosphere: Members of the 4th Stryker Brigade at Fort Lewis, Wash., prepare to go to Iraq by training in the rainy, forested terrain of the Pacific Northwest.

A lot has been made of the fact that some units deploying to Iraq as part of the “surge” are not going to the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California. While some seem to be trying to present this as “the troops aren’t trained”, the fact is that the troops are getting their training. Just not at the NTC.

Army News Service has this: The Gearing Up: JRTC Trains 4th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div., for Accelerated Deployment:

The keystone of the effort was the Joint Readiness Training Center, the Army’s premier combat training facility for light infantry and special forces units.

“We provide training specifically geared toward BCTs (brigade combat teams) that are deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Lt. Col. Shawn Klawunder, chief of the JRTC Plans/Exercise Maneuver Control Group. “For the past two-plus years, all we’ve been providing is mission rehearsals for what they’re going to encounter in theater.

The overwhelming majority of the action troops are going to see in Iraq, particularly troops “surged” into Baghdad, will be in an urban environment. The forest terrain vs. desert terrain isn’t really an issue.

Also, it’s not like these are inexperienced units on their first deployment. Many of the troops, particularly the junior officers and the NCOs, have been to Iraq or Afghanistan at least once previously.

Take a look at the soldier on the ground in the picture. He’s probably simulating a casualty. (Or maybe looking for the insurgent air force?) On his right shoulder, under the US flag, is a patch. That’s a Shoulder Sleeve Insignia – Former War Time Service (SSI-FWTS), commonly referred to as a “combat patch”. That means that that soldier has seen combat, and as that appears to be a 172nd Brigade patch, it means he saw it with the Alaskan Stryker Brigade that spent a year and half in Iraq.

Honestly, I’m not sure that he’s going to suffer much because he’s training in forested terrain urban settings rather than desert terrain urban settings.

Incidentally, the 172nd Brigade no longer exists, having been reflagged the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry. Those combat patches, though, can be worn by eligible soldiers forever.

Here’s some more:

To reproduce the complex environment 4th Bde. Soldiers will encounter in OIF, about 2,500 people streamed into Fort Lewis from all over the continental United States and Hawaii.

“We try to replicate the political, religious, ethnic, tribal diversity that they see in an area,” Klawunder said. “We do that with our role players and our cultural role players. In every rotation, we bring in 250 cultural role players who are Americans who have come from Iraq or Afghanistan, depending on what theater (the unit is) deploying to.”

With Arabic as their native language, most of the cultural role players spoke no English when interacting with 4th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div., Soldiers.

Five hundred more role players took non-speaking parts in the exercise. These played farmers, school teachers and wives of cultural role players “as well as battlefield friction of people moving around, moving from town to town,” said Maj. Chris Hossfeld, senior maneuver planner and one of the first Plans/EMC staff to arrive. “For this rotation we’re using about 230 OPFOR (opposition forces),” Klawunder said. “They use the same sort of tactics, techniques and procedures to replicate the threat.”

The fulltime OPFOR Soldiers, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 509th (Airborne) Regiment from Fort Polk, are thoroughly trained in al-Qaida’s methods, as well as those of Shi’ite militias, Sunni insurgents and Ba’athist rebels.

The key to training for this mission isn’t unit maneuvers on open terrain like it might be if we were gearing up to take on a mechanized enemy, but the urban procedures and interaction with the civilian population. Pine trees instead of the palm trees won’t make any difference.

Two extra bonuses for doing it this way:

  • More than 400 troops from the new 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry participated in training exercises. This new brigade is just standing up, so this was a great opportunity that wouldn’t have been available had the 4th Brigade shipped down to Irwin.
  • The JRTC exercises, partly because of the sudden timing and unusual location, were far less scripted than standard NTC exercises. This means that none of the participants, even soldiers who had been through the NTC training previously, could know what to expect. That adds a lot of realistic uncertainty to everything you do, and that’s invaluable.

In short, things aren’t nearly as bad as some would like us to believe. Perfect? Of course not. But these guys are going to be just fine.

Lt. Col. Shawn Klawunder used the term “human terrain” when discussing the exercises. That’s a for more important terrain these days than either forest or desert.

UPDATE: Others on this subject:

Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive
The Corner


  1. While I’ve never been on the base, I’ve driven by it many times. I’m pretty sure that the GR Press is just making things up. I do not recall that Ft. Lewis is forested at all. Sure, lots of trees in the Pacific NW, but since the training is taking place at Ft. Lewis, I think they’re pretty much just making up stuff that sounds the way they want it to sound.

  2. As long as they are well trained, particularly in urban warfare – so what? In 1990, my unit deployed from Massachusetts to North Carolina to Saudi Arabia. Two sets of chocolate chip cammies, some tan paint for the vehicles and we were ready to roll.

  3. KTLA: I’m pretty sure that the GR Press is just making things up. –They’re allowed to do that? For the record, it does seem that we can see some trees in the upper left of the picture. Don’t know that it qualifies as training in ‘forested terrain’, though. Also, Stryker fans (and detractors) will note that the Stryker is not outfitted with slat armor. This, I believe, could be a shortcoming in training. Last I heard, a couple of sets of slat armor had been sent to Lewis for drivers to practice with. Since a SBCT has over 300 Strykers, a couple isn’t enough. I certainly hope that’s changed. Bram: Most folks just don’t understand it. I’ll bet that if you had asked them last week, they’d mostly have said ‘well, the Army should always be ready on a moment’s notice…that’s their job‘. Now that critics are criticizing, many of those same folks are wringing their hands going ‘how can George Bush ask those poor boys to go fight without letting them get prepared?’ Maybe I’m just too cynical. I hope that most folks aren’t that clueless. I’ll bet they are, though.

  4. One day we will get a free and informed press. Until then we are stuck with a press that follows the winds of political spin doctors… Murtha wonks on about training levels and the press gives us these crap stories. When there is so much that could be brought to light, (say why Colt is forcing the Army to buy the M-4, or the plight of the Navy procurement bungles…) One day, we shall have a free press…

  5. Bram – Basically you are right. Technically however, Senator Dodd is preventing the Army from selecting a new rifle and he is insisting that if any bids are solicited so that Colt can compete. Thus for now, the Army can only choose between the M-16 & M4 for most of its troops. That said, Colt has a very powerful lobby and hides it campaign contributions through the use of various industry lobby groups. Legally, the Army cannot choose a foreign company to make its rifles, unless there exists no American company capable of producing an comparable weapon. Ultimately, The key sticking point in all this mess is that the Army wants to own the patent rights for any future rifle, so they can have multiple vendors and not be stuck with a sole source provider for what amounts to a commodity product. IMO in this rifle mess will only be sorted out when there is some game changing event. Such as, Colt going under, Dodd out of office, or some sort of public debacle that forces congress to override the gravy train.