By Beverly Corbell
Special to the Herald
LAFAYETTE, La. With explosions and confusion all around, members of the 256th Infantry Brigade were attacked Tuesday by mobs of people in Iraqi clothing screaming, "Go home! Go home! We don't want you in our country!"
Middle Eastern music and Islamic calls to prayer blared over loudspeakers during a ferocious battle, but the troops of the 256th weren't in Iraq. They were at Fort Hood, where they've constantly been put in situations to simulate the war in Iraq, said Maj. Wayne Marotto, public affairs officer for the 75th Training Support Division.
"They've done things they've never done just as a National Guard unit," Marotto said.
"They're now mobilized as part of the 5th Army.
"The troops, who arrived home late before dawn Friday, trained through Wednesday, he said, and spent Thursday getting equipment ready and packing to go home for a weeklong leave.
Marotto said the Army has learned many lessons in Iraq, and now combat training is given to every soldier, even if they're ferrying supplies.
"They learn to be aggressive if they are attacked," Marotto said.
"They are soft targets ... but we train them just like the infantrymen. We've learned through our lessons in Iraq that if you appear aggressive, the bad guys don't want to mess with you."
The "Iraqis" who attacked the troops were really civilians hired as COBs, or civilians on the battlefield, he said, to make the training as realistic as possible. The troops were also given tank training where they are put on a battlefield and fire at pop-up targets while being fired upon.
Marotto said the brigade mastered the highest level of tank training the Army offers. "Every hour of every day was filled with training," he said. "No one will leave training until they get the training they need." The troops also completed weapons training, learned urban warfare and how to deal with roadside bombs and mines.
"They know how to set up a perimeter, set up security, engage the enemy and fire back," he said. The intensive training began in early May and will continue for two more months at Fort Hood when the troops return July 8.
They will then go to the Army National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., where they'll train in the Mojave Desert for two more weeks. Then they'll be shipped out to Iraq, Marotto said.
Learning to care for wounded soldiers is also a big part of the training in Fort Hood, Marotto said, and that's the mission of Capt. Steve Scott of Lafayette. He's commander of the 199th Charlie Medical Unit based in St. Martinville, said his wife, Dena Scott. She planned to pick him up this morning along with their two sons, who also serve in the 256th, Pfc. Corey Mathews, 19, and Cpl. Wesley Mathews, 25.
Having her entire family heading for Iraq is not easy, but Dena Scott said her employer, a CPA firm, was extremely supportive, and she hopes other spouses' employers understand that how important their visit this week will be. "I know some wives were stressing beforehand about approaching their employer (for time off)," she said. "We don't live in a military community, but for us, this is a big deal.
"Chances are hopefully they're all going to come back and will be fine and this just be time out of our lives. But it's life changing. We don't know when they leave if we will ever see them again."
Giving the troops the best odds of returning safely is the whole point of the training, Marotto said. "We want to make sure, for the families' sake, that we prepare them and they're ready for combat," he said. "Our thinking is that there's mothers and fathers and wives and husbands and kids depending on us to train these soldiers to be the best, and that's what we're doing."
Beverly Corbell is a reporter for the Lafayette, La., Advertiser.