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Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012

Infantry Soldiers get ‘incredible’ training opportunity

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FORT BENNING, Ga. — Infantry Soldiers nearing the end of one station unit training got a rare chance last week to work with the vehicle many will become very familiar with in their first duty assignments.

The members of B Company, 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment, faced roadside bomb and ambush scenarios in a Stryker during training on the mounted react to contact lanes Thursday and Friday. They practiced entering and exiting the machine while using it as cover in drills aimed at getting mounted elements to work cohesively with tactical small units on the ground.

Capt. Paul Hill, the company commander, said 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, regularly provides Humvees for the MRTC sessions. But this time, two Strykers were added to the mix, courtesy of B Company, 1-29 Inf., which had a break in its training schedule.

“It’s pretty rare. For these Soldiers, it’s an incredible opportunity,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve seen this in my battalion. … Most of the time, Soldiers will go through (Infantry OSUT) and never set foot in an armored vehicle — until they get to their unit.”

Hill said huge chunks of the class have orders to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., or Fort Bliss, Texas — both of which are home to Stryker brigades. The next-largest group is going to Fort Stewart, Ga., for assignment in 3rd Infantry Division mechanized units.

“The big key is they’re getting exposed to working in a mounted environment,” he said. “When they get to these units, even if this isn’t the exact type of armored vehicle they’re going to have, armored-vehicle concepts can be pretty universal. It’ll make it a little easier for them to integrate into (a unit).

“I can’t say how vital it is that they’ve at least seen it and put their hands on it before they arrive.”

The MRTC planners shook up mission requirements during the runs, forcing Soldiers to make adjustments. After a simulated explosion on the road, the Stryker or Humvee would come to a halt and troops had to move on foot into the woods, relying on basic building blocks and battle drills they’ve developed most of the cycle.

“On the non-contact side, part of my intent is for them to learn how to use that armored vehicle to protect themselves. Gather up, reorganize their force and then move out,” Hill said. “They need to maintain that situational awareness, because there could still be a secondary device. It’s a pretty common practice by the enemy.”

Some scenarios included casualty evacuation and checking fallen enemy combatants for weapons.

“The big thing is we’re trying to engage their brains. We may take a simple concept, but throw a twist on it,” he said. “We’re trying to get a higher level of thought out of them. … It’s all about making them more powerful in combat.”

Coming into the training, most Soldiers in B Company were comfortable firing on targets downrange, but shooting at an “enemy” while executing the movement drills they’ve picked up was challenging, said Pfc. Richard Lewis, 20, of Mechanicsburg, Ohio.

“It was intense knowing … if you mess up, you let your battle buddies down,” he said. “We were shooting at an (opposition force) and they’re firing back. You had to be on point. If not, you got shot or you become a casualty. It was pretty realistic.”

While one Stryker ran the MRTC lane, another was set up on static display. Hill said it allowed Soldiers rotating through to learn about the vehicle’s systems and equipment from experts brought in by 1-29 Inf.

“When they get to their unit now, they’re going to actually have a concept of the Stryker,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Rosenkranz, senior drill sergeant for 3rd Platoon. “This is a great thing. In basic training, it’s a game changer. ... The private becomes an asset to his first platoon because now he knows how to dismount and do everything else a lot faster than another Soldier who showed up and didn’t have this resource.”

Lewis is among those headed to a Stryker unit at Fort Bliss. He said the exposure to it here was invaluable.

“It was awesome, just knowing when I get to Texas I’ll be on one of these,” he said. “It was everything I hoped for. ... It’s a pretty impressive weapon and transportation. I wouldn’t want to be the enemy.”

This week, the Infantry Soldiers tested the tactics and skills in a field-training exercise. They’re set to graduate Feb. 10.

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