Looks and sounds like Iraq

Hood Herald/DAVID MORRIS - - Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, playing host nation forces, prepare to enter a building full of insurgents as they train at Monday at Fort Hood with Florida National Guard soldiers.

By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Fort Hood Herald

Teams of American soldiers moved in once it was discovered that extremists were responsible for a rocket attack on a government center. There was evidence that the suspects were holed up in a multistory hotel, and the Americans were there to support the host nation as its forces served an arrest warrant.

A four-man team moved into the dark building. A flurry of shouting and shots rang out as bombs exploded inside and outside the hotel. More teams moved in. More shouting and more shots followed.

A soldier with a white band around his helmet tossed a smoke canister out the hotel's front door and the front of the building was engulfed in green gas.

A frantic voice came on the radio. There were significant casualties.

An explosion rocked the building's concrete walls as soldiers and host nation forces lay bloodied on the floor. One by one they were dragged outside. Though the explosions stopped, small-arms fire rang out over the area.

A crowd of angry civilians shouted in Arabic, jeering the frenzied soldiers. They tried to ignore the fruit-throwing mob and loaded their wounded into vehicles. More soldiers with white bands around their helmets watched their every move, occasionally jotting something down on a clipboard.

A lieutenant colonel's voice boomed over the commotion. The action stopped. The battle was over - for now. The soldiers would have to run through the scenario again later, but first, it was time to talk about what they did right and what they did wrong.

About 2,600 soldiers from the Florida National Guard's 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team arrived at Fort Hood in January for two months of mobilization training before deploying to Kuwait and Iraq.

The 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment; 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment; 1st Battalion, 153rd Cavalry Regiment; 2nd Battalion, 116th Field Artillery Regiment; 53rd Brigade Support Battalion; 53rd Special Troops Battalion; and Headquarters will provide security, force protection and life support operations, according to information from the Hood Mobilization Brigade and 120th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division West.

The Floridians are set to replace the 115th Fires Brigade, which is a collection of Army National Guard units from Wyoming, Minnesota, South Dakota, Colorado and Alabama. Those soldiers deployed from Fort Hood in June 2009 after mobilizing under the supervision of the 120th.

Soldiers from the 120th provide training for mobilized National Guard and Reserve units at North Fort Hood. That training included Monday's urban operations training exercise at Boaz Range, a combined arms collective training facility. The site is designed to look, sound and smell like Iraq.

Each company in the 53rd Infantry Brigade will go through scenarios at the facility, which replicated what they could encounter during their deployment.

Soldiers from Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, were the first to complete the urban operations training Monday.

They were joined by troopers from the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, who played the host nation forces.

The company-level training allows company commanders to maneuver their forces, said Lt. Col. Adrian Bogart, and exercise elements of command and control like mission planning, coordinating with host nations and dealing with the civilian population. Scenarios like Monday's are designed to be "very complex, almost unsolvable," Bogart said.

Bogart commands the 120th's 2nd Battalion, 393rd Infantry Regiment, just one of the First Army Division West units at Fort Hood responsible for training.

The key with the urban operations training is to get the visiting Guard and Reserve units to apply the minimum amount of force to accomplish their objectives, Bogart said.

He called it "force commensurate with the threat."

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Shepherd served three years as an active-duty soldier with the 4th Infantry Division. He deployed with the division in 2003, and said the upcoming deployment will be different from what he experienced then. He did "infantry stuff" back then, he said, which included more combat operations.

Shepherd is a union electrician when he isn't in uniform.

The 26-year-old Tampa native estimated that at least half of the soldiers in his squad haven't deployed, and there it was important for him to share his experiences with them.

Encountering curve balls in Monday's training was good for Spc. Sergio O'Neill. He is a combat medic while in uniform and a stock clerk at a grocery store in his civilian life. He hasn't participated in training that intense and said it was good for soldiers like him who haven't deployed.

It's easy to learn fast, O'Neill said, because of soldiers in the company who have experienced combat.

Working with soldiers who haven't deployed can be a good thing, said 1st Lt. Jason Parker, who leads the company's 3rd Platoon.

Those soldiers don't have any preconceived notions about the upcoming deployment, he said. It will be a different mission than many of the veterans have seen before.

Parker and 1st Platoon leader 2nd Lt. Scott Girard are both 25-year-old university students preparing for their first deployments. Parker is studying security management and Girard is studying English.

Dealing with the civilian population during the urban operations training was the most challenging, Parker said, because they had to appease them while still trying to accomplish the mission.

They went through the scenarios the 120th soldiers threw at them over and over, Girard said, and it was good because the details changed and roles were swapped, and that made the younger guys step up.

The 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team soldiers have matured "very rapidly" since arriving at Fort Hood last month, Bogart said Monday.

"They're soldiers," he said, adding later, "They're soldiering very well."

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at astair@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.

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