Grafenwöhr, Hohenfels to be linked for exercise

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — U.S. Army training areas in Grafenwöhr and Hohenfels will be linked for the first time during an exercise to prepare the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division for deployment to Iraq.

During the nine-day exercise, which kicks off Monday, most of the brigade will be based at Hohenfels but an entire battalion task force — 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment — will work out of Grafenwöhr.

In past mission-rehearsal exercises, brigades have been based entirely at Hohenfels, although units have traveled to various German training areas.

Maj. Matt Vanwagenen, a member of Joint Multinational Training Command’s Timberwolves Observer Controller Team, which is overseeing the 1-6 training, said the move to base units at Grafenwöhr during mission-rehearsal exercises is driven by the operating environments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The extended distances that our guys are operating at down there has driven us to make an extended battlefield at Grafenwöhr and Hohenfels,” he said.

It takes up to two hours to drive the 70 miles between the training areas in a military vehicle, Vanwagenen said.

Timberwolves Team leader Lt. Col David Batchelor said the Army has an agreement with the German government that allows U.S. military convoys to use particular roads linking the training areas.

“We are trying to replicate the distances that brigades operate at in Afghanistan and Iraq. The distance between Hohenfels and Grafenwöhr is about the distance units operate at in Iraq. It is a greater distance in Afghanistan,” he said.

For brigade and battalion logisticians the distance presents problems related to weather, mechanical problems and enemy activity, Batchelor added.

The mission-rehearsal exercise involves some big changes for Grafenwöhr Training Area, traditionally a major center for live-fire gunnery in Europe. For example, 1-6 soldiers are living at a forward operating base and three combat outposts built on ranges in the training area.

The facilities include wire perimeters, guard towers and entry control points that replicate downrange bases.

The Timberwolves have developed three military operations in urban terrain (MOUT) sites on ranges in the training area. The sites, built mostly out of plywood, imitate small Iraqi towns, complete with shops, police stations, houses, 90 Arabic-speaking civilians on the battlefield, and insurgents played by 64 members of 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment.

Batchelor said the MOUT sites may stay at Grafenwöhr after the training finishes or be placed in storage so that ranges can be used for other types of training. But he said he expects future exercises to involve similar training at Grafenwöhr.

Lt. Col. Brian Eifler, 39, of Farmington Hills, Mich., commander of 1-6, said his unit was an hour away from brigade headquarters when he served in Iraq in 2003 with 4th Infantry Division.

One challenge posed by distance is processing detainees, he said.

“We have to deal with processing detainees back to the brigade detention facility. We organize a combat patrol to get them back but the challenge is to do it without taking combat power off the battlefield,” he said.

Sgt. 1st Class Roger Joyce, 34, of Orlando, Fla., a platoon sergeant with 1-6, said the only thing Grafenwöhr lacks — that Hohenfels has — is a large MOUT site with multiple streets and multistory buildings.

But he added that the benefit of replicating the distances his unit will work with in Iraq outweighs that deficiency.