January 2, 2006

Back Lot Iraq

Hatched by Sachi

When mountaineers climb a mountain, they begin by setting up a base camp, then a series of camps at higher altitudes, so that they can acclimate to the thin air and the cold. For the same reason, US soldiers headed for Iraq spend two or more months training in Kuwait, in order to get acclimated to the brutal environment before heading into the area of operations.

But in fact, by the time they head for Kuwait, our troops have already gone through a much more intense "acclimation" back home in the U.S.: they must first immerse themselves in the Iraqi culture that will soon surround them like water around a fish.

At Fort Dix, New Jersey, the Army runs a 30-acre re-creation of Iraq:

For two months, the group of 157 veterans and rookies has lived on Tiger Base, a 30-acre re-creation of Iraq at Fort Dix, one of two bases in the United States that offers an immersion course for new security forces, said Lt. Col. Norberto Cintron, who is in charge of the training.

They awaken before 5 a.m. and hear Muslim prayer calls five times a day. They eat flavorless food, use portable toilets and sleep on cots, 12 to a tent. In military exercises, simulated grenades and improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.'s, explode, and soldiers like Specialist Kavanaugh dramatize severe or fatal wounds.

I first heard about this training camp a couple of years ago. At that time, the Army hired American actors to play the roles of Iraqi citizens. Our soldiers were mainly training for crowd control in confusing urban situations then. Evidently, that part of the training is still ongoing:

Every day, convoys from the 654th roll through a makeshift Iraqi city with hidden threats. When the men see the sign "The City of Balad Welcomes You," gunners grasp their M-249's and 50-caliber machine guns.

The convoys pass a blue mosque and aluminum shipping containers made to look like buildings, each spray-painted with Arabic or English phrases like "Go home USA." Sometimes snipers shoot blanks at the Humvees, inciting a simulated firefight.

Civilians, including Iraqis living in the United States, occasionally linger in the streets like movie extras. Some are instructed to look friendly and wave, others to grimace and yell in Arabic.

The camp at Fort Dix has improved its simulation, making it both more accurate and immersive since it was first created. We now have many returning servicemen who can contribute their own "lessons learned," as well as more Iraqi-born Americans to stock the town.

I am always amazed by our military's ability to adapt and improve. This seems to be a hallmark of a free society, that the military leaders (uniformed and civilian) value the opinions not only of the officers but also the men and women with stripes on their sleeves. Contrast this attitude to the heirarchical, top-down Russian command... how many years have they been losing the same war in Chechnya? They seem to have learned nothing from that combat; in fact, they still haven't learned the lessons from Afghanistan -- why they lost, and why we won.

I believe that this kind of innovation is exactly why our military will stay on top: America looks to the future, not the past.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, January 2, 2006, at the time of 6:27 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

Wow... my first impression of this is that SOMEBODY upstairs at the Pentagon actually loves our troops. How many militaries throughout world history would have gone through this much effort to prepare the enlisted for what they are going to be up against? And not just prepared enough to create Victory, but to do it in such a way as to allow the troops to menally/emotionally survive the process?

A pleasant afterthought is the idea that the Pentagon decided to do this because they realize that we are only the guardians of the Peace in Iraq, not its imposers... that is to say, we'll bring Democracy and Freedom to the Iraqis, but we won't do it by razing the culture in place to get it done... rather, we'll adapt OUR troops in order to leave as small of an imprint as we can.


Mr. Michael

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 2, 2006 11:11 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill M

This is really pretty neat. The US military has learned a lot of lessons over the years, and they adapt well.

If you look at the big picture, I think you can see the genesis of this in "Red Flag" for the Air Force, and "Top Gun" for the Navy. The services learned early on that the "new guy" was the most vulnerable, due to lack of experience. Programs like "Red Flag" and "Top Gun" were designed to give pilots, in as realistic an environment as possible, their first "combat experiences", without the combat. Get their experience level up before going into combat.

The Army also has done this with intensive combat training. It looks like this is yet another program to fine-tune the troops. Before they ever get into the real mccoy, they've seen realistic situations and learn how to cope, probably using tactics and the experiences of folks who've already been there and done that.

Ths type of training has to result in fewer combat deaths and more effective troops from day one in country. No other military in the world is this good!!!

{My possible bias: Lt Col, USAF (ret)}

The above hissed in response by: Bill M [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 3, 2006 12:04 AM

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