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New Training Site Brings Afghan Reality to Troops

By Spc. Kelly Hunt, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM, Afghanistan, Oct. 14, 2003 – In the hidden back trails of Bagram Air Base stands an Afghan compound, made by hand out of mud by local citizens -- a training site used by Bagram troops to prepare for urban combat.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division's 87th Infantry Regiment put their training to the test at the new MOUT training facility at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. MOUT stands for Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain. Army photo by Spc. Kelly Hunt

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Faced with the Army's need for soldiers to train even when in a remote area such as Afghanistan, the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation joined forces with Anteon Inc. and developed a plan for MOUT -- Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain -- training facilities.

In December 2002, the Defense Department directed that MOUT sites be built in Kuwait and Afghanistan to support Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Two months later, funds were provided for the sites, said William Howsden, site manager.

The Bagram site was finished in late September, said Staff Sgt. Jim Bagnell, 416th Engineer Command, Facility Engineer Team 28, who worked alongside Afghan workers to build the state-of-the-art compound. The training site resembles an Afghan village.

"It's unbelievable," said Bagnell. "The MOUT site looks like an Afghanistan compound. It offers the environment of Afghanistan." Adding to its sense of reality was the hands-on work of local craftsmen, he said.

"They've done this all their lives, so it comes naturally to them," said Bagnell, who oversaw their work. Bucket by bucket, mud was passed up ladders to waiting hands that packed the mixture.

"It's neat," Bagnell said. "I was really excited about it, because I watched it come up from nothing. You can build a building, you can build a road, but to build something out of the earth (is incredible)."

Though from the outside it looks like a simple Afghan compound, the site contains many hi-tech advantages that allow troops to receive the highest training evaluation opportunities after completing the course, according to Howsden.

The site's instrumentation has been proven effective at the Joint Readiness Training Center's Shugart-Gordon MOUT site at Fort Polk, La., where it's been used since 1996, Howsden said. Capabilities include low-light cameras with laser illuminators, panic buttons for safety and security, targets in each building, sound effects, moveable interior walls, trap doors, external lighting, external cameras and smoke generators.

A multi-media theater for after-action reviews provides troops with an opportunity to see what the hidden cameras caught, and gives them a chance to see if they can improve techniques used during the exercise, Howsden added. The theater features real-time audio and video playback, PowerPoint slide presentations and after-action report recordings, he said.

Training as they fight keeps troops on their toes, Howsden said, and the new facility gives them a more realistic view of the terrain they will encounter in Afghanistan.

"We do MOUT training about once a month," said Sgt. 1st Class John Folkenroth, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, who oversaw the training of the second platoon Oct. 7. It was the first time his troops had been through the new course. Hesaid training at sites like this is necessary for infantry soldiers.

"If you don't train, you forget what to do, and the more you do something, the better you learn it," he said.

Getting troops to the site takes a little planning. Scheduling is required a week in advance. Units asking to use the site must submit a scenario including training objectives; training level of the squad, platoon or company; the type of training, whether it be live-fire or forceto-force training; the type of ammunition being used; and a risk assessment, Howsden explained.

Much of the necessary equipment is available on the site. Participating units each must provide one noncommissioned officer per squad, observers and controllers if required, training at the site before their exercise, medical support, and food and water for participating troops.

(Army Spc. Kelly Hunt is assigned to the 4th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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