COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Fort Carson soldiers in Kuwait are keeping a wary eye on Iraqi unrest as they work to train America's allies in the region.
Soldiers with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team are preparing for three major training exercises in the next 40 days, with the biggest matching their tanks against a Kuwaiti battalion. The training allows the 3,800-soldier unit to fulfill its mission of helping America's friends while honing skills that leaders hope deter threats in the roiling region.
"It has taken on increased significance and meaning, many of us in the brigade are veterans of Iraq," said Col. Omar Jones, brigade commander and a veteran of fighting in Fallujah, Baghdad and Mosul.
The brigade deployed to Kuwait in the fall, replacing Fort Carson's 1st Brigade Combat Team for a nine-month stint.
Keeping Fort Carson troops at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, near the Iraqi border is seen as a safeguard against violence that could spread beyond Iraq. The Colorado Springs soldiers also are the nation's first responders if trouble arises in the Persian Gulf region.
While Pentagon leaders in recent days have dismissed the idea of using U.S. troops to help quell violence in Iraq, they have been sending piles of equipment to the Iraqi military. The Iraqi strife is centered on the western Anbar province and is thought to be tied to border-crossing Syrian militants with ties to Al Qaida.
Iraq remains a top concern, but most of the brigade's work is focused on training — old school training that's focused on armored battles rather than guerrilla warfare. The military's training regimen has shifted in recent months to fighting that could come after America's role in the war in Afghanistan ends.
"We're focused at being experts at our tanks, experts at our Bradley and experts at our Paladins," Jones said Tuesday in a telephone interview.
With temperatures staying at what locals call frigid — in the 60s and 70s — winter is the best time for desert warfare training. In a couple of months, the mercury could top 120 degrees.
Buerhing, located in the baby-powder sand near Kuwait's Udari Range training area, offers an endless supply of desert terrain.
Troops also work on keeping the brigade safe from cross-border attacks and terrorist strikes that remain a concern in the region.
Jones wouldn't talk specifics about security.
"I will say that I feel very comfortable and satisfied that we're taking the right force protection," he said.
When they're not training, the brigade's soldiers can relax on a post that offers good food, recreation opportunities and Internet and phone service to keep them connected with their families.
"This is the best quality of life we have seen on a deployment," Jones said.
In addition to training with Kuwaiti troops, the soldiers are getting the chance to know Kuwaiti civilians, with occasional field trips to coastal Kuwait City, known as one of the most modern cities in the Gulf region.
"It is an absolutely amazing place," Jones said.
The biggest distraction for soldiers? The National Football League playoffs.
Jones said his brigade is loaded with soldiers from Colorado and others who have adopted the Denver Broncos as their home team during their time at Fort Carson. Halfway across the globe, games start at midnight in Kuwait and the final gun comes in the wee hours of the morning.
But the time difference hasn't kept soldiers away from the television.
Sunday's AFC championship is expected to draw a crowd at the desert base.
"There will be a lot of weary eyes from soldiers staying up to watch the game," Jones said.