USA — Kanada

U.S. Sol­diers Train Cana­di­ans for Afghanistan in Texas

By Don­na Miles
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

FORT BLISS, Texas, Feb. 27, 2008 — More than 3,000 Cana­di­an sol­diers prepar­ing for a rota­tion in Afghanistan are wrap­ping up a pre-deploy­ment train­ing exer­cise here this week that includ­ed U.S.-led instruc­tion in coun­ter­ing impro­vised explo­sive devices.

USA - U.S. Soldiers Train Canadians for Afghanistan in Texas Cana­di­an army Pvt. William Burgess, of Golf Com­pa­ny, 2nd Bat­tal­ion, Roy­al Cana­di­an Reg­i­ment, attempts to locate an ene­my insur­gent moments after dis­mount­ed sol­diers in his unit were engaged dur­ing a con­voy-train­ing exer­cise at Fort Bliss, Texas, and McGre­gor Range, N.M., in prepa­ra­tion for a deploy­ment to Afghanistan. Cana­di­an army pho­to

The three-week 2 Cana­di­an Mech­a­nized Brigade Group exer­cise, dubbed Exer­cise South­ern Bear, con­cludes Feb. 28.

Sol­diers from Cana­di­an Forces Base Petawawa, in Ontario, arrived here Feb. 7 to train for their deploy­ment to Kan­da­har in Sep­tem­ber, Lt. Andrew Hen­nessy, the 2 Cana­di­an Mech­a­nized Brigade Group spokesman, told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice. Once deployed, the sol­diers will serve with the Kan­da­har Provin­cial Recon­struc­tion Team and as observ­er men­tor liai­son teams that embed with and train Afghan sol­diers and nation­al police.

About 80 per­cent of the troops will be deploy­ing to Afghanistan for the first time, but they’re no strangers to tough mis­sions far from home in Bosnia, Haiti, Eritrea and oth­er hot spots, Hen­nessey said. “They’ve had lots of expe­ri­ence in lots of places,” he said.

Exer­cise South­ern Bear, spread over a mas­sive area that includes not just Fort Bliss, but also the McGre­gor Range and White Sands Mis­sile Range in New Mex­i­co, is giv­ing the Cana­di­ans the oppor­tu­ni­ty to train for oper­a­tions with both friend­ly and hos­tile civil­ians, ene­my insur­gents, media and Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces.

Although Cana­di­an train­ers are lead­ing the gun­nery, con­voy live fire, first aid and most oth­er train­ing blocks, they’ve looked to U.S. sol­diers to help pre­pare them to face impro­vised explo­sive devices, Hen­nessey said.

The U.S. 5th Armored “Dag­ger” Brigade, 1st Army Divi­sion West — a hybrid of active, reserve and Nation­al Guard troops deployed here from Fort Car­son, Colo., since July as train­ers — is offer­ing that assis­tance.

About 1,300 of the Cana­di­an troops have gone through the “IED-defeat” train­ing so far, and about 150 more are sched­uled each day for the remain­der of the exer­cise, said Army Col. Frank Sher­man, who com­mands 5th Armored Brigade.

The train­ing begins with about an hour and a half of class­room instruc­tion. After that, stu­dents get exposed to an “IED pet­ting zoo,” where Sher­man said they get to put their hands on sev­er­al types of IEDs to see what they look like. From there, stu­dents learn to take scraps of met­al to build their own IEDs.

“We have them do that because we want them to under­stand what these things are and how they’re built,” Sher­man said.

This prac­tice helps ensures that when sol­diers encounter an IED com­po­nent in the com­bat the­ater, they rec­og­nize what it is. “If they know the pieces and the com­po­nents that go into mak­ing them, it’s going to be eas­i­er for them to rec­og­nize an IED,” Sher­man said.

With that train­ing under their belts, the troops tra­verse two IED-defeat lanes set up at McGre­gor Range. In the first lane, for dis­mount­ed oper­a­tions, sol­diers spend about three hours mov­ing as a squad. Along a mile-long stretch of New Mex­i­co desert, they encounter six dif­fer­ent types of IEDs, Sher­man said.

Next sol­diers move to their vehi­cles — most­ly six-wheeled light armored vehi­cles and eight wheeled Coy­ote recon­nais­sance vehi­cles — to nav­i­gate a mount­ed IED course where they’re exposed to five or six IEDs.

Sher­man said the length of the course — 7 miles — gives sol­diers enough time between IED events to test their vig­i­lance. “They learn that, as they con­tin­ue to move, they have to keep scan­ning areas and being watch­ful,” he said. “We don’t want them to become com­pla­cent. You can nev­er let your guard down.”

That’s crit­i­cal, he said, as more IEDs begin to appear in Afghanistan. “The enemy’s adapt­ing,” he said. “They’re learn­ing from the oth­er the­ater (Iraq) how effec­tive they are, and they are migrat­ing.”

“IEDs are one of — if not the — biggest threats we will face in Afghanistan,” Hen­nessey agreed.

He said the train­ing Sherman’s troops are pro­vid­ing are a way for deploy­ing sol­diers to learn new skills that will help give them a leg up on insur­gents who might use IED against them. “This is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn from the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary and gain from their expe­ri­ences in both Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.

Sherman’s train­ers strive to make the train­ing real­is­tic and mean­ing­ful. They con­tin­u­al­ly insti­tute changes, “incor­po­rat­ing the lat­est tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures the Tal­iban is using,” he said.

The train­ers use the lat­est train­ing aids, includ­ing a sim­u­la­tor that can be det­o­nat­ed wire­less­ly, with an infrared beam, or by a “vic­tim” who unwit­ting­ly walks or dri­ves on it. When the device goes off, it “throws off a big cloud and shoots off a star­burst,” Sher­man said. “It real­ly does get your atten­tion.”

Mean­while, the high-desert train­ing envi­ron­ment close­ly resem­bles Kan­da­har itself, he said. McGre­gor Range stands at 4,400 feet alti­tude, just a few hun­dred feet short of Kan­da­har. It’s a sandy, arid area with­out much veg­e­ta­tion and sim­i­lar fields of obser­va­tion to those in Afghanistan.

“Fort Bliss at this time of year looks a lot like Kan­da­har,” Hen­nessey agreed.

USA - U.S. Soldiers Train Canadians for Afghanistan in Texas A con­voy of Cana­di­an army light armored vehi­cles nego­ti­ates an impro­vised explo­sive device-train­ing lane dur­ing Exer­cise South­ern Bear on Fort Bliss, Texas, and McGre­gor Range, N.M. Although the Cana­di­ans are con­duct­ing almost all the train­ing in prepa­ra­tion for a deploy­ment to Afghanistan, the U.S. sol­diers are lead­ing the IED-defeat train­ing. Cana­di­an army pho­to

Con­di­tions here are a far cry from those at the Cana­di­an sol­diers’ home base, cur­rent­ly buried under 3 feet of snow with tem­per­a­tures in the ‑20s degrees Fahren­heit. “Try­ing to train in con­di­tions like that is pret­ty dif­fi­cult,” Sher­man said.

With the train­ing about to wrap up, Sher­man said, he’s impressed by the way the sol­diers have tak­en the lessons learned here to heart. “They’ve gained a lot of sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness, and they’re a lot more in tune to their sur­round­ings,” he said. “They have learned how to scan the envi­ron­ment.”

Just as impor­tant­ly, he said, they’ve come to real­ize that defeat­ing IEDs is everyone’s job. “It’s a team effort, and every­one under­stands they have a piece of it,” he said.

Hen­nessey said the Cana­di­an troops will rein­force the train­ing gained here when they return home, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing a con­fir­ma­to­ry exer­cise in May designed to cer­ti­fy their readi­ness to deploy.

Sher­man said he and his troops get grat­i­fi­ca­tion train­ing the Cana­di­ans for their upcom­ing deploy­ment. “If it saves one soldier’s life, it was well worth the time and effort,” he said. “You’ll nev­er real­ly know if what you taught them here saved a life, but you know in your heart that you’ve made a dif­fer­ence.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)