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Army now emphasizes joint efforts

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Posted: Sunday, September 10, 2006 12:00 pm | Updated: 3:17 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Emily Baker

Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD – Terrorism was nothing new, but it suddenly seemed much scarier to most Americans as the day was beginning Sept. 11, 2001.

The World Trade Center was in pieces, and the Pentagon had a hole punched in its side by a hijacked airliner that was flown into it.

Just as terrorist attacks had occurred years before – such as the bombing of a U.S. base in Lebanon that killed 220 Marines in 1983, the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 – the Army has been changing to better respond to terrorism for years. But, the deadliest terrorist attack thus far, which killed nearly 3,000 people, has been a powerful catalyst to speed up changes already under way in the Army, military leaders said.

The subsequent wars in Afghanistan, which began less than a month after the Sept. 11 attacks, and in Iraq, which began in March 2003, have increased an emphasis on the joint fight, which was first tested under the model in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The Goldwater Nichols Act, which was signed into law in 1986, began the military's restructured look at the joint fight, said Air Force Col. Donald Tharp, commander of Fort Hood's 3rd Air Support Operations Group.

The act changed the military's chain-of-command flow so that information would pass from the president to the defense secretary to combat commanders in control of all military action in a certain area, such as Army Gen. George Casey, who is in charge of all U.S. military action in Iraq. The act also defined the joint chiefs of staff as advisers.

"Through (the act's) inception and refinement, we've seen great leaps in how our equipment and fight has become a unified effort," Tharp stated in an e-mail. The attacks "brought that to the forefront."

Tharp leads a group that is the Air Force equivalent to an Army's brigade-level unit, responsible for coordinating airpower with the Army's battlefield. The group's airmen live, train and deploy with soldiers and control aircraft from all branches of service and occasionally other countries within the coalition.

While this particular Air Force job came about during the Vietnam War, it has gained new importance in the urban fights in Iraq and Afghanistan, where pilots are providing a watchful eye from above more often than they are dropping ordnance.

That capability always has existed, but the services could never really train together before the war on terrorism created an undeniable need for joint training, Tharp said.

Airspace restrictions above Fort Hood limit the type of aircraft that can fly above Central Texas training areas. Fort Hood leaders are attempting to persuade Federal Aviation Administration officials to reassign certain portions of airspace to allow for fighter and bomber planes.

Until that can occur, soldiers and airmen travel to places such as the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., for more realistic combat training.

At Fort Hood, units have applied regular updates from troops in Iraq to their training. Some major additions in the last few years include convoy training, language and cultural training and escalation of force training, which teaches soldiers when it is acceptable to use force against civilians and how much force should be used.

"Not everybody is a bad guy," said Capt. Erin Gilliam, operations officer for the 1st Cavalry Division's 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, who designed the battalion's last major combat training exercise ahead of its upcoming deployment to Iraq.

Equipment shortages and time pinches have created a need for creative training scenarios. The Army's up-armored Humvees are in the Middle East where they are used to protect soldiers from real bullets and explosives, said Maj. Dave Shoupe, the 2nd Brigade's spokesman. So, soldiers training for Iraq have been using thin-skinned Humvees when they face only fake explosives and blank rounds.

Because the Army's rotation schedule currently allows less than a year to train for combat, finding money for training is easier, said Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Wright, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment's master gunner. The regiment has deployed twice to Iraq and is training for an anticipated third deployment.

Costs training III Corps units "have remained constant (with costs before the war began) with a shift of emphasis on operational requirements based on upcoming missions," said spokesman Lt. Col. James Hutton.

In other words, rather than spending more money on training, units are conducting training specific to the situations they will encounter in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as Arabic language training.

"If there was something we may have thought about doing, like arctic training or something dealing with the snow, maybe that's something we wouldn't do if a unit were going to Baghdad," Hutton said.

Training modifications have cost the post about $45,000 since the war began. The money was used to modify a mock-Iraqi village used to train company-sized units on urban combat techniques, said Nancy Bourget, a III Corps spokeswoman.

The philosophy behind training is to create scenarios that teach soldiers skills that can be applied to a variety of situations likely to be encountered in Afghanistan or Iraq.

"It's tough and realistic training, and we are hitting a lot of different scenarios," Gilliam said. "Hopefully, they'll be able to react quickly because of their training. This may not be the exact thing they'll encounter, but it will get them thinking it through and building their confidence."

Contact Emily Baker at ebaker@kdhnews.com

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