FORT POLK, La.— “O’ dark thirty.” That’s the name soldiers have given the pre-dawn hours of early morning.
While most Americans are sleeping comfortably in their beds, soldiers, such as those from Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, are watching the pink and blue hues of the rising sun, ready to work.
“Our (starting point) was 4:40 a.m.,” said Spc. Carlos Martinez, an infantryman, after completing a live-fire training course during the brigade’s Joint Readiness Training Center rotation Aug. 8 at Fort Polk.
Boots changed from tan to brown as Martinez and the rest of the company marched through the tall, dew-soaked grass to reach their objective.
“We did it fully dismounted, which was way more fun than using the trucks,” said Pfc. Coy Atkinson, another infantryman from Alpha Company.
The objective of the exercise was to clear and secure a “village” within the Peason Ridge training area; a heavily wooded area with a village built in a clearing.
“We had a support-by-fire squad set up on the hill and a breach team came up and breached the C-Wire (razor wire),” he said. “Then a clearing element came up and cleared the first building and set up a (casualty collection point) inside it.”
Once the casualty point was set up inside the building, a second platoon entered and cleared the rest of the mock village, he said.
The live-fire training at Joint Readiness Training Center complements the training available at Fort Hood, the unit’s home station, combining small arms, field artillery and a faux medical evacuation. The terrain and environment of the training center is an essential element of the training.
“They’ve got the terrain here to best replicate live fire, specifically the combined arms live fire of this nature,” said Lt. Col. Robert Kuth, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment commander. “By virtue of where Peason Ridge is, they can almost achieve, if not, achieve, a 360 (degree) range, which you just can’t get at most posts in the U.S. Army.”
The soldiers who participated in the live-fire exercise echoed their battalion commander’s assessment of the training.
“It’s not often we get to use more than just live rounds and actually use things like the demo charge … to coincide with field artillery or actually have a (medical evacuation) drop in, granted it was notional,” said Martinez, referring to the helicopter, which landed at the training site to simulate medevac procedures. “It was good practice for some of the new guys.”
The company went through the course the previous day using blanks and no ammunition. The training center’s operator controllers escorted the troopers every step of the way, guiding and mentoring the young soldiers.
“Their ability to bring in subject-matter expertise can take even our most junior soldiers, junior leaders, junior (noncommissioned officers), junior officers, and bring them to a whole other level,” Kuth said.