Soldiers in the 63rd Engineer Company (Horizontal) rehearsed their reaction to roadside bombs and enemy contact last week as the unit continued a big training push toward an Afghanistan deployment later this year.
The session was part of a three-week stint in which the Soldiers worked with Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, the same mode of transportation they’ll use in theater. The unit’s MRAP training wrapped up Friday.
Capt. James Rogers, the company commander, said more than half of his Soldiers have never deployed before — so the refinement of their tactics, techniques and procedures is vital in preparing for the challenges they’ll face in Afghanistan.
“They may have to deal with fears they never encountered before, so you have to help them through those fears,” said Rogers, who faces a fifth career deployment. “The way you do that is to train them. The more realistic our training is, the better they’ll be able to handle it. Hopefully, the training they receive here will kick in and the adrenaline will take over the panic and fear if something happens over there.”
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The company had three platoons tackle the improvised explosive device training scenarios over three straight days. They also involved a few maintenance Soldiers, while the unit’s headquarters platoon operated a mock tactical operations center, monitoring radio communications.
Each platoon planned and prepared two simulated operations, which included a reconnaissance patrol and route-clearance mission. The engineers had to spot a roadside bomb and faced “enemy” contact.
Training planners from the 11th Engineer Battalion incorporated interaction with interpreters, tribal and religious leaders, too.
“The basic idea is to get them acclimated to the Afghanistan environment,” said 2nd Lt. Paul Delongchamp, the 3rd Platoon leader. “We’re trying to give them a little taste of what they’ll see over there. Cultural awareness is just as important.
“With the IED reaction, we’ll be able to see whether we can relay information quickly and accurately about wounded Soldiers and vehicle damage assessment. The training will show us what we need to work on and improve before we go. That way, we can fix the problems so we don’t do the same things downrange.”
Situational awareness is critical on deployment, said Sgt. 1st Class Xavier Bowie, the 3rd Platoon sergeant. This will mark his second time in Afghanistan, and he’s been to Iraq twice.
He said the main objective of IED and enemy contact training is to expose the Soldiers to as much intensity and realism as possible.
“You always want to make the practices harder than the game,” Bowie said. “I want to make sure, if they make any mistakes, we make them here before we go. There’s not much margin for error when you make ‘em over in Afghanistan.”
Nearly all the members of 3rd Platoon are making their first deployments, including Pfc. Lucas Arnold of Neodesha, Kan.
“We’ve been training for a few months, and the intensity gives us a real feel for what we’re going to see when we get over there,” Arnold said. “I want to keep myself aware. The situational awareness is so key over there. (The enemy) has so many things they can put IEDs in. Repetition is big. You always have to have your eyes open.”
Rogers said the company’s deployment mission will likely include route clearance, instructing and coordinating with Afghan engineers, boosting local security forces and assisting civilians.
“It’s all about helping the country and winning the hearts and minds of the local populace,” he said.