• September 17, 2014

Fake casualties, real frustration

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Posted: Saturday, May 18, 2013 4:28 pm | Updated: 11:11 pm, Sat May 18, 2013.

The pop of bullets got louder and louder as Afghan insurgents pushed back against U.S. forces. The firefight escalated and by 2 a.m. Saturday, insurgents pushed their way inside a building at mock Joint Combat Outpost Turani.

If it was real, I would have been terrified. I’d be dead. They “killed” everyone. They “killed” 200 soldiers.

When we arrived at the post around 10:30 p.m., soldiers in the 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, anticipated the attack. Armed with weapons, soldiers listened to intelligence from soldiers in other buildings. They worked around the clock and received intelligence of a potential attack around 2 p.m. 

But – as with real war – they didn’t know when it would happen. When I heard the gunfire in the distance, I didn’t know what to think.

The popping noises got closer and louder. It seemed a bit chaotic, but not for the U.S. troops. They prepared for the attack, shouted orders across the room and kept their communication strong in an effort to execute the same mission.

"The goal is not to just make sure everyone is safe,” said Maj. John Sandler, squadron operations officer, after the attack. “It’s killing the people who are trying to kill you.”

Despite their previous training, insurgents made their way outside our pitch black building.

Soon, the shadowy figures of Afghans clutching weapons could be seen as light from their bullets lit up their faces. They ran around shooting non-stop until everyone was “dead.”

After the attack, it was obvious soldiers in the unit were upset and frustrated by their loss. If this was a real-world scenario, the 200 casualties would devastate the unit, soldiers stateside and their family and friends. It would also slow down the unit’s mission, meaning more time for soldiers to sustain combat and more time for families to be separated from their loved ones.

Despite the negative outcome of the battle, commanders and leaders emphasized that it’s not the end result of the attack that matters. Instead, soldiers should focus on how they reacted to the situation, assess what went wrong and adjust their tactics, techniques and procedures for future missions.

For soldiers deploying for the first time, the exercise was an opportunity to learn lessons for future deployments. If a gunfight breaks out when the 3,200 Black Jack brigade soldiers deploy to Afghanistan this summer, the outcome will be better because of the training they received at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. And, there won’t be anywhere near 200 casualties.

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