BAQOUBA, Iraq — Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division who patrol the streets in Baqouba every day have seen some of this before, but not just like this.
Before deploying, they trained long and hard in Germany to prepare for their work in Iraq.
However, Iraqi insurgents are proving to be much sneakier than a role-playing enemy in a training area.
The training areas were made to look like small-scale versions of Iraq last October and November to prepare the soldiers to conduct patrols and provide security.
But, soldiers say, Iraq can’t be replicated in a safety-first training environment, especially cities such as Baqouba — a hotbed of car bombs, makeshift roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.
“I don’t see how you can possibly mimic what we are facing here,” said Sgt. Will Douglas, from Battery C, 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment out of Bamberg, Germany. “The urban training was good for us, but now that we’re here I see that it wasn’t very realistic.”
“[During the training] we would come under sniper fire,” Douglas said. “You could see the window open, you see the rifle and then you see the guy leaning out of the window. Here, it’s not like that. They are very well hidden.”
While the training covered identifying and marking off improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs, and other scenarios that were happening the day before in Iraq, the division went through that training months before it deployed.
Before the division took over in March, the enemy had matured and adapted its methods many times thwart U.S. forces.
Since March, 43 of the division’s 12,000 soldiers in Iraq had been killed in action as of Sunday, according to Maj. Neal O’Brien, a division spokesman.
“We didn’t train on secondary IEDs last year; that’s something new that [insurgents] are doing,” said Sgt. 1st Class Donald Alford, an operations sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment. The secondary IED is set up either on a timer or by remote control to strike the explosive ordnance team as it disarms the more obvious IED.
In one case, the secondary IED was a loaded rocket-propelled grenade launcher tied to a palm tree about 30 feet away and aimed to hit the other device, he said.
Soldiers identified it before it could detonate, however.
Still, the training gave soldiers an idea of what they could expect in Iraq, especially the field artillery soldiers who have forgone the mission they normally perform to become infantrymen and policemen, according to Maj. Gen. John R. S. Batiste, division commander.
“The command post exercises and warfighter exercise we went through prepared the [command] staff very well,” Batiste said.
The mission rehearsal at the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels, Germany, was tied to what was going on in Iraq at the time, Batiste said.
“The [observer-controllers] had spent time in Iraq just before the training,” he said. “The division was very well prepared for this mission.”
Preparing for Iraq didn’t stop with the training in Germany. The division trained on weapons and individual readiness in Kuwait as it waited to convoy into Iraq earlier this year, Batiste said.
Despite being in the thick of it now, soldiers at Forward Operating Base Gabe continue to train on their weapons, and soon will have an urban training facility to practice on.
“We conduct ranges twice a month,” said Staff Sgt. Carlos Ybarra, from Striker Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery from Vilseck, Germany. “We get quite a bit of new soldiers coming in on a regular basis, and this is familiarization for them.
“We also need to keep soldiers doing the patrols skilled and honed on their weapons,” Ybarra said.
Not every soldier qualifies every month, however a soldier can expect to qualify with his weapon every few months at FOB Gabe’s homemade range, Ybarra said.
The key is keeping the soldiers prepared so they can confidently keep an eye out for the dangers of the streets they patrol.
The soldiers had everything thrown at them at the Hohenfels training center, said Sgt. 1st Class Donald Alford, an operations sergeant from 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment. “The guys are going out there and seeing something different every day, but they are getting the job done,” he said.
The “Renegades” of the battalion’s 3rd Platoon, Battery B, are a testament to that. The platoon has conducted 228 missions, including patrols and resupply convoys in Baqouba, and hasn’t lost a single soldier, according to the platoon leader, 1st Lt. Lance McGill.
“Now, there’s not too much we have to do to get ready for a patrol,” said Spc. Michael Phillips, from 3rd Platoon. “We just get in our vehicles and roll out to do our job. We’ve learned what to look out for.”