FORT POLK, La. — As Afghan insurgents closed in on 1st Cavalry Division soldiers, gunfire from the enemy force grew louder during a force-on-force training exercise at Joint Combat Outpost Turani.
Although troopers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team’s 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment developed intelligence over several days leading up to the mock attack, insurgents “killed” at least 200 soldiers stationed there.
“Strangely enough, you would think that in Afghanistan, the Taliban, who is the main enemy over there, would want us to leave,” said Maj. John Sandler, 4th Squadron’s operations officer. “But to some degree, it’s a political information operations victory to be seen fighting us out the door.”
The squadron’s exercise was designed around a mission to close down a joint combat outpost downrange that the Afghan National Army no longer needs, Sandler said.
This is exactly the mission the “Black Jack” Brigade will have once it deploys to Afghanistan this summer — close outposts and bases downrange. If Afghans don’t want the buildings, some of which have been expanded throughout the 12 years of war, U.S. forces will retrograde and reduce the buildings’ structure. About 3,200 soldiers are training for that mission at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., this month to support the 2014 withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
Lt. Col. Robert Smith, squadron commander, said soldiers started training for this mission in February, focusing on individual soldier skills, with an emphasis on marksmanship and learning how to employ and operate counter-roadside bomb equipment. The training’s intensity increased during force-on-force exercises.
“We run the whole gambit,” Sandler said. “At different levels, we do different training. … It’s tough. It’s a very condensed timeline. We’re probably running on about two hours of sleep a night.”
Because of the training’s brevity, Smith said one day at the center replicates about seven days in combat. “It’s meant to do that to put you under stress and see where you’ll make the mistakes so you’ll learn from them,” he said. The mass causalities during the attack will stick out in many soldiers’ minds once they’re downrange fighting for real.
“If we came down here and we defeated the enemy as they attacked, we wouldn’t learn anything. When you put us in this kind of situation … there are things you forget to think about and as they occur, you learn a lesson,” Smith said. “(If) we find ourselves in this same position in Afghanistan, they’re going to think of today.”
While it’s unlikely for a squadron to be overrun like the “Dark Horse” squadron was during Saturday’s attack, Sandler said it’s all a part of training.
“A lot of people maybe start doubting themselves (when they lose), but as leaders, it’s our job to remind them that we’re like a rubber band,” Smith said. “If you don’t stretch it, it doesn’t get any more elastic. They were stretched to the breaking point. Now it’s our responsibility to ask ourselves what we learned, how we’re going to integrate it (downrange).”