FORT DRUM In a range simulating the harsh battlegrounds of Afghanistan, the missteps of inexperience were corrected by soldiers fresh from their own deployment overseas.
That was the case for soldiers of the Delta Company of the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, also known as the Polar Bears, who spent much of Thursday re-creating the experience of driving on patrol. The short drive included stopping to dispatch a pair of enemies and scanning for improvised explosive devices before converging on an enemy location, in this case a small, roofless building of plywood walls divided into two rooms.
Move with a purpose, said Maj. Todd J. Clark, a senior observer from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team. Time is money on these.
The approximately 30 soldiers in the company moved through the drill with capped, ammunition-free weapons first, before doing it again using only blank ammunition. They would switch to live ammunition for their third and final run.
The drills were all a part of the posts Mountain Peak exercise, which put several thousand soldiers from across the 10th Mountain Division into the field in one of the largest exercises on post in more than a decade.
I dont think Ive seen anything like this, said Col. Samuel E. Whitehurst, who took over command of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team in June. He had last taken part in a Mountain Peak exercise in 1995.
In the exercise, soldiers from the 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams, who may deploy in early 2013, are being overseen by members of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, which returned from a yearlong deployment in March.
Delta Companys first run exposed some flaws in the methods of Pfc. Steve J. Meaney, Spc. Alex M. Rey and Pvt. Devin C. Turner.
The three-man group first ran into issues when it encountered a dummy representing the body of a killed hostile enemy. The three exposed the dummys underside as they leaned it sideways with their arms, which brought an immediate reprimand from Sgt. Jeremy P. Hounshell, a member of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team who was serving as a safety instructor.
Sgt. Hounshell pointed out that their actions left them exposed if the enemy had a live grenade on his body, or if he was resting on a pressure point IED. Hopping onto the dummys back, he grabbed under its arms and leaned to the side to expose the dummys underside, while another soldier quickly scanned for explosives. Pretending that an explosive had been found, both Sgt. Hounshell and the spotter quickly rolled from the body, ending up face down.
At a later area of the drill, as the three pressed into a fictional enemy hideout, Sgt. Hounshell criticized the relatively large gaps between the three soldiers as they entered a back room where two cutouts hung against a wall. Re-creating the entry, he placed his hand on the back of Pvt. Turner, who stood closest to the entryway, and pressed on him as they moved into the room.
Sgt. Hounshell told the soldiers they would practice the entrance multiple times until they got it right.
You cant fail, he said.
While Delta Company completed its secondary training, other companies of the regiment took on a variety of tasks for the day, such as guarding the makeshift forward operating base and moving between it and a secondary location. Soldiers at both locations would meet civilians role-playing as Afghan nationals.
Many of the role players were Afghan immigrants fluent in Pashto and Dari, languages commonly spoken in the country.
Soldiers would acquire intelligence through the day, from interviews with the role players they met or by scanning the dummies found in scenarios such as a mock ambush. The information would have to be compiled to help prepare for larger movements later in the exercise.
It tests how they assess that kind of information, said Maj. Brian M. Ducote, 3rd Brigade Combat Teams operations officer.
Sitting in a back room of the brigades large tent headquarters, Maj. Ducote said the exercise was as much a learning experience for his brigade as it was for the training soldiers.
Were probably learning more than anybody else in all this, he said.
With the exercise slowed Saturday to clear and restore range spaces, operations will continue today with larger, platoon-level operations, before entering into division-level activities. The exercise will run until Thursday.