Civilian Leaders Tackle Counter-IED Course in Kuwait
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SWORD, Kuwait, Apr. 26, 2006 Participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference got a taste of what U.S. forces running convoys through Iraq experience every day as they took positions on Humvees and navigated the hazards of a counter-improvised explosive device training course here.
Tony Hendrickson, dean of Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., mans the gunner's seat during counter-improvised explosive device training at Forward Operating Base Sword in Kuwait. Hendrickson is in the Middle East participating in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Larry Chambers, USCG
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The participants, civilian business, civic and academic leaders from around the United States, donned flak vests and Kevlar helmets before maneuvering with Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit through the notional Al Bassayab province of Iraq.
Their 13-vehicle convoy's mission was to deliver materials from Forward Operating Base Dagger to Forward Operating Base Spectre, which required them to traverse a several-mile course similar to what U.S. troops are likely to find in Iraq.
The course is part of a larger network of paved and dirt roads, built-up village areas and even 85-plus Arabic-speaking players that bring realism to the training scenarios troops practice before leaving here for Iraq. During a typical training mission, they're likely to encounter everyday drivers impatient about waiting for convoys to pass, suspicious people videotaping their vehicles, and insurgents who attack them directly or with roadside or vehicle-borne IEDs.
"We've tried to create an environment that simulates what they're likely to face when they move into Iraq, and to help them recognize the threats and know how to respond to them," Army Brig. Gen. Nolan Bivens, operations officer for Coalition Forces Land Component Command, told the JCOC participants.
There's no cookie-cutter formula for countering IEDs, the single biggest threat to U.S. forces in Iraq. The key, Bivens told the JCOC group, is recognizing and countering IEDs -- something he said demands constant vigilance because the enemy keeps coming up with new tactics and techniques.
"We're dealing with a thinking enemy, one that's very adaptable" and that requires U.S. forces to become even more adaptable to keep a step ahead, Bivens said.
New technologies, including jammers that block the frequency that sets off the firing device, have a big impact. But the real key, Bivens said, boils down to recognizing the environment and being keyed in to telltale signs that something's out of place.
"It's all about situational awareness," he said. "It's a rough environment out there, and what causes these troops to see what is out of the ordinary can save them their lives."
Decisions soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines make in a matter of seconds can mean the difference between life and death for themselves, their fellow troops and the Iraqi civilians they encounter, he said.
"Soldiers have to make decisions in literally seconds," agreed Army Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Walls, a platoon sergeant with the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade, the "Ready Brigade" based here to support surge requirements in Iraq.
"That's why we're so vigilant," Walls said. "You have just a split second to decide if you will engage or try to signal (a vehicle to stop). And you don't want to make the wrong decision."
The JCOC participants got a sense of what it's like to make those split-second decisions today as they traversed a training course used as a final refresher for troops preparing to move forward into Iraq.
They hopped into gunner's harnesses and took up crew positions, waving orange warning flags at vehicles that approached too closely at intersections or threatened to break up their convoy line. "We start with a friendly posture and escalate from there," explained Marine Cpl. Richard Carreno, a vehicle commander who served twice in Iraq before his deployment here. "The goal is to use engagement only as a last resort."
If the vehicles failed to heed the warning, the JCOC participants took a more aggressive approach. They pointed weapons, then fired warning shots with their M16s, and in the case of Steve Gill, a radio talk show host from Nashville, Tenn., opened fire directly on a charging vehicle.
Gill was gunner for the third vehicle in the convoy as it set out on the mission to find a suspected car bomb, described only as a white pickup truck with a shattered left window. As a suspect vehicle approached, the gunners in the two forward vehicles, both JCOC participants, raised orange warning flags to direct the vehicle to stop. When it accelerated, Gill jumped on the trigger, firing at the vehicle before it exploded next to his Humvee.
Other JCOC participants had similar stories to tell about their ride along the bumpy stretch of dirt road littered with debris that can harbor IEDs, intersections that bring convoys unavoidably close to car bombs, and chokepoints like underpasses that limit drivers' ability to swerve or avoid attack.
David Robinson, senior vice president of the Freddie Mac Foundation in McLean, Va., fired on someone who was videotaping the convoy -- a tactic Bivens said insurgents often use so they can improve their effectiveness.
Mary Beth Anderson, a producer and director for Banyan Productions based in Philadelphia, dismounted from the Humvee and pulled security on a suspected insurgent after the convoy got fired on. While she put him on the floor and watched over him, her fellow crewmates went looking for more suspects.
Jim Grant, CEO of Grant's Financial Publishing in New York, played the role of patient after a notional IED detonated by his Humvee. His fellow JCOC participants -- Ivlaw Griffith, dean of Florida International University in Miami; Eugene Huang, a visiting scholar at Stanford University in California; and Chris Godsick, president of LSG Inc., in Calabasas, Calif. -- served on the medical team and carried Grant's litter to the awaiting medevac helicopter.
"I got some exercise detail in!" said Griffith, sweating in his protective gear under the hot morning sun after delivering the patient to the designated landing zone, marked by purple smoke.
Steve Schulz, senior strategy consultant for the Gallup Organization in Omaha, Neb., engaged a vehicle that wouldn't stop at an intersection. "It was a lot of fun, but it really gave me a new perspective," he said of the experience. "Everyone knows that (our troops) are working hard and doing wonderful things. But when you ride in their equipment and meet them and see firsthand what they do, you really get an appreciation."
"We can't totally replicate the process or the experience of being in a real convoy with real bullets, but this helps demonstrate the kinds of things our troops encounter every day," Bivens told the participants.
"We're not trying to teach (our troops) what to think, but to ensure that they are always thinking," he said. "And it makes me extremely proud that they are doing this so professionally on a daily basis."
Participants in the JCOC program are business, civic, community and academic leaders from around the country who are spending the week observing U.S. Central Command at work.
This JCOC trip is the first to the Middle East since the Defense Department started the program in 1948 to help educate civilian "movers and shakers" about the military.