FORT IRWIN, Calif. — The mission was complex and on short notice, said Lt. Col. Arthur Sellers, commander of 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
“That’s intentional,” he said, addressing his battalion staff during a mission analysis meeting Wednesday afternoon at the “Charger” command post. “It’s day 12, but we have to treat it as if it was day two.”
The battalion is part of its brigade’s monthlong rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. About two weeks of the rotation is spent in the
1,200-square-mile desert training grounds known as “the box.”
Soldiers will be packing up and heading out of the box over the weekend, but not before completing some of the toughest fighting they’ve seen as part of the decisive action training rotation, which involves offensive, defensive and stability operations against a conventional fighting force and criminals.
For Thursday’s mission, the Charger Battalion began planning around 2 p.m. Wednesday, instead of getting the more ideal 24-hour preparation time, said Maj. Troy Mills, battalion operations officer.
But for training purposes, he said the fast-paced planning broadens their operational abilities.
“It ensures we’re adaptive and flexible. That our leaders can adjust to change,” Mills said. “It’s good to stress our systems and be able to execute rapidly.”
Alpha Company played a key role in the mission, which was to clear two buildings believed to contain chemical weapons. Soldiers had to learn to breach the perimeter and clear the building, all while wearing the necessary gear for potential hazardous chemicals.
First Lt. Jonathan Wrieden, an infantry platoon leader in Alpha, was eager to get his team into the action after pulling security for most of the rotation. “This is what we do,” he said after briefing his soldiers on the mission. “The key point when you’re in a crunch for time is to issue a task and purpose to your subordinates.”
Alpha Company did reach the buildings, but after many changes and many casualties.
During their time in the box, soldiers and their vehicles, role players and the opposition force are outfitted with a laser tag-type system, as well as a sensor on weapons that sends the laser out when a blank round is fired. The gear will beep when it’s fired at to let the soldier know if they have been hit.
This not only trains units to operate after losing members and assets during battle, but also how to use the systems to get replacements, said Lt. Col. JR Deimel, senior brigade staff trainer at the training center.
As of Thursday evening, among all the brigade’s units, 2nd Lt. Christine Sloan, an assistant in the brigade’s administration section, said they recorded 236 casualties for the day. Most days in the box they’d seen no more than 30.
“It teaches us to work under stress,” she said. “Besides learning to communicate and the casualty process, it’s giving us a chance to get to know the soldiers in the brigade.”
Deimel estimated the day’s casualty rate as much higher, because all the paperwork hadn’t made it through from the battalions and up to brigade yet.
“Every unit that comes here struggles at something,” he said. “They come here to get better and hone their skills. We grow them as a unit and we grow them individually.”
Because this is a decisive action rotation, the box is replicating an “immature theater,” where the Army hasn’t been able to set up any brick and mortar facilities as it has in Iraq and Afghanistan, Deimel said. That makes medevacs more challenging, because of distance.
“This replicates a more austere environment,” he said. “However, this unit is handling the challenges well and growing every day.”