USA — Realistic Scenarios Prep Troops for Afghanistan Duty

FORT POLK, La., May 25, 2010 — The day kicked off here late last week as a cel­e­bra­tion in the fic­tion­al Afghan vil­lage of San­gari. A rib­bon-cut­ting cer­e­mo­ny marked the reopen­ing of the munic­i­pal cen­ter, head­quar­ters for the pro­vi­sion­al gov­er­nor, the region­al police com­mis­sion­er and local police chief, as well as a pub­lic works ser­vice office.

Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La.
Army Lt. Col. Donn Hill dis­cuss­es secu­ri­ty arrange­ments for the train­ing-sce­nario ded­i­ca­tion of an Afghan munic­i­pal cen­ter with a role play­er serv­ing as his Afghan army coun­ter­part at the Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter, Fort Polk, La.
DoD pho­to by Don­na Miles
Click to enlarge

U.S. forces – the 101st Air­borne Division’s 4th Brigade Com­bat Team, pulling a month-long train­ing rota­tion here at the Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter – arrived hours before the late-morn­ing cer­e­mo­ny, along with their Afghan army and nation­al police coun­ter­parts.

The “Cur­ra­hee” Brigade focused on the same tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures they’ll apply when they deploy to Afghanistan in the com­ing months as part of the troop surge there. Work­ing shoul­der to shoul­der with their Afghan coun­ter­parts, they set up check­points at three roads lead­ing to the tiny vil­lage – one of 22 dot­ting the train­ing cen­ter, all built to resem­ble real-life Afghan vil­lages. They set up a perime­ter around the vil­lage, tak­ing pains to remain as far in the back­ground as pos­si­ble so the Afghan forces could take the lead.

Army Lt. Col. Donn Hill, com­man­der of the 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 506th Infantry Reg­i­ment, dis­cussed the secu­ri­ty plan for the event with his Afghan army coun­ter­part – an Afghan role play­er sup­port­ing the exer­cise.

“It looks like a good turnout,” Hill said, speak­ing through an inter­preter as he sur­veyed the vil­lagers dressed in authen­tic Mid­dle East­ern cloth­ing as they gath­ered in front of the munic­i­pal cen­ter, await­ing the cer­e­mo­ny under the hot Louisiana sun­shine.

“I know my people’s biggest con­cern is a sui­cide bomber,” Hill told the Afghan com­man­der, whose role-play­ing Afghan troops and police manned the for­ward secu­ri­ty line.

A CH-47 Chi­nook heli­copter swirled the air as it land­ed near­by, deposit­ing more role play­ers depict­ing provin­cial recon­struc­tion team lead­ers who had come to attend the cer­e­mo­ny.

The provin­cial gov­er­nor arrived next, along with an Afghan army gen­er­al and U.S. Army Col. Sean Jenk­ins, the 4th Brigade com­man­der.

No one real­ized that Army Spc. Kevin Pem­ber­ton of the Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Center’s oppos­ing force lurked incon­spic­u­ous­ly among the crowd. A mem­ber of the 1st Bat­tal­ion, 509th Infantry “Geron­i­mo” Reg­i­ment, for the past 15 months, Pem­ber­ton has car­ried out the full range of “Red Force” roles against rota­tion­al units train­ing here. He’s emplaced sim­u­lat­ed impro­vised explo­sive devices, launched small-arms and rock­et-pro­pelled grenade attacks on coali­tion troops and has set up com­plex ambush attacks, among oth­er insur­gent tac­tics. For the munic­i­pal ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mo­ny, he car­ried an Afghan cit­i­zen­ship card iden­ti­fy­ing him as “Zabidul­lah Nafi’e Hamet Mah­sud.” And beneath his flow­ing dish­dasha robe, he con­cealed a sui­cide vest rigged with five bricks of C4 explo­sives and a det­o­na­tor tucked into his pock­et.

Pemberton’s plan was to wait until the cer­e­mo­ny con­clud­ed and the crowd start­ed to dis­perse to det­o­nate. It would reduce civil­ian casu­al­ties, he explained, and more impor­tant­ly, serve as the ulti­mate coun­ter­point to any mes­sage of assur­ance offered dur­ing the cer­e­mo­ny.

The local reli­gious leader kicked off the cer­e­mo­ny, chant­i­ng vers­es from the Quran before the Afghan lead­ers took their turns at the podi­um set direct­ly in front of the munic­i­pal build­ing.

Some in the crowd became unruly, com­plain­ing they could­n’t hear what was tak­ing place, and pushed clos­er toward the build­ing. The Afghan secu­ri­ty forces ini­tial­ly tried to hold the secu­ri­ty line, then reluc­tant­ly relent­ed to allow the crowd to move in clos­er.

After the Afghan lead­ers addressed the crowd, Jenk­ins took his place at the podi­um, hail­ing the reopen­ing of the munic­i­pal cen­ter as “anoth­er exam­ple of suc­cess­ful devel­op­ment” in San­gar province, call­ing it the result of the secu­ri­ty the Afghan army and nation­al police have pro­vid­ed the peo­ple of San­gari. He cred­it­ed the close part­ner­ship among Afghan forces, coali­tion forces and the San­gari peo­ple for mak­ing it pos­si­ble.

Just as the offi­cials cut the rib­bon and the crowd start­ed to return to their homes and shops, Pem­ber­ton made his move to storm the munic­i­pal cen­ter. The Afghan sol­diers and police tried to stop him, and he det­o­nat­ed – an action made more real­is­tic, thanks to a fire mark­er who sent up an air clus­ter gen­er­at­ing smoke and noise.

Chaos erupt­ed among the crowd, as scream­ing men and women fled the area. Left lying behind, along with Pem­ber­ton, were 12 mock casu­al­ties – six Afghan sol­diers, four Afghan police offi­cers and two civil­ians.

The Cur­ra­hee Brigade respond­ed instant­ly, with squad and pla­toon lead­ers mov­ing their sol­diers into posi­tion. Then, as if remem­ber­ing that the Afghans were to be in the lead, they read­just­ed toward the rear, pro­vid­ing back­up.

Mean­while, Army medics ran toward the scene, check­ing the pock­ets of each role play­er on the ground for a card that, for the exer­cise, des­ig­nat­ing the extent of their injuries. The triage quick­ly com­plet­ed, Pfc. Christi­na Piatt tend­ed to one patient as Spc. Tyler West­lund and Spc. Antho­ny Stein loaded anoth­er onto a lit­ter to be evac­u­at­ed from the site.

More dis­rup­tions rang out amid the chaos, signs of a coor­di­nat­ed strike. Sim­u­lat­ed rock­ets crashed down in the dis­tance. Insur­gent forces engaged U.S. and Afghan forces man­ning the con­trol points into the vil­lage. An ene­my sniper fired shots from the top floor of the local hotel.

Two OH-58D Kiowa War­rior recon­nais­sance heli­copters cir­cled over­head, and an A‑10 Thun­der­bolt II “Warthog” soared high over­head, drop­ping flares sim­u­lat­ing close-air sup­port.

As the sce­nario con­clud­ed, the Cur­ra­hee sol­diers head­ed toward their com­mand out­post, a ply­wood struc­ture ringed with con­crete bar­ri­ers and wrapped in con­certi­na wire. After they cleared their weapons, they filed into the build­ing to catch their breath and await an after-action review.

Army Staff Sgt. Jason Wells, a Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter train­er-men­tor who had care­ful­ly watched every detail of the oper­a­tion as it unfold­ed, fol­lowed behind.

“Sui­cide bombers are par­tic­u­lar­ly tough,” he said. “But they could have done a bet­ter job of crowd con­trol. It’s one of the things they’ll learn here.”

Wells nev­er has deployed to Afghanistan, but he has spent 37 months in Iraq, includ­ing the ini­tial inva­sion in 2003, when he served with the 101st Air­borne Division’s 1st Bat­tal­ion, 187th Infantry Reg­i­ment.

As the “new guy” with just two months on the center’s train­er-men­tor staff, he said, he sees tremen­dous val­ue in the train­ing deploy­ing troops get here.

“If you know you are going into this type of sit­u­a­tion, you need to get trained for it,” he said. “If you’re not ready and you go in messed up, you are going to get messed up.”

(This is the sec­ond arti­cle in a series about how the Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter at Fort Polk, La., is prepar­ing the 101st Air­borne Division’s 4th Brigade Com­bat Team for its upcom­ing deploy­ment to Afghanistan.)

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