FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — As soldiers emerged from woodland brush and crossed an intersection in a dirt road, they knocked the rifles away from a pair of mannequins that had just been on the receiving end of a barrage of bullets — enemy fighters, for the purpose of this training exercise.
The soldiers, of the 2nd Platoon of B Company, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, were taking part in one of the final stages of field training meant to prepare them for a possible deployment.
While the enemy was fake, the bullets were real as officials tried to make the training as authentic as possible.
The training area was covered in trash to resemble conditions soldiers have fought in over the past decade. A model rocket attached to a guy wire, coupled with a training grenade, became a mock rocket-propelled grenade.
As the men took position at the top of several berms, they fired on distant enemy locations and provided cover for a smaller group of soldiers who had sneaked through the woods to their right flank.
Those soldiers, under a cover of smoke, ascended upon a two-building compound.
Once there, a shotgun blast opened the doors and the mannequins inside were hit with bursts of rifle fire.
In each of the buildings, mannequins wearing civilian clothing were untouched.
The soldiers quickly returned outside to fight off a "counterattack" from enemy forces.
By the time of the live-fire exercise, the paratroopers had been sleeping in the training areas of Fort Bragg for more than three weeks during an intensive training cycle for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Maj. Jeffrey Kersey, battalion executive officer, said the exercise was an opportunity to see how platoon leaders respond to different scenarios.
The platoon leader and his noncommissioned officers have to be prepared for anything, Kersey said.
Officials observe to see how they handle conserving ammunition and optimizing fire support, among other tasks.
"Doing training like this gets them in the mind frame of operating anywhere in the world," said Capt. Trivius Caldwell, commander of B Company. "It's been nonstop the last three weeks. They love it out here."
Caldwell and other leaders, including brigade commander Lt. Col. Joseph Kuchan, critiqued the soldiers after the exercise.
Kuchan said the soldiers get more excited and are more focused on the exercise when live ammunition is used.
"It gets the blood running," he said. "When the live rounds start popping, it's a different feel. They're more focused."
First Lt. Mark Delany, the platoon leader, said he thought his soldiers did well.
"We did a lot better than even I was hoping," he said. "But there's always a few little things to improve on."
Kersey said the training was part of a larger cycle that began in January with individual team and squad-level training.
It will culminate in California in May, when the brigade is scheduled to attend the National Training Center at Fort Irwin.
"We're on the deployment cycle for the fall," Kersey said. "This cycle was built toward getting ready to go to Afghanistan, but if not, we'll assume the (Global Response Force role)."
"Whichever option, we're poised well to do either one," he said.
Other training scenarios the paratroopers have encountered include airfield seizure, raids on enemy command centers, responding to downed aircraft and the defense of a compound from dug-in fighting positions.
"We don't do it a lot, but it's something we have to be prepared to do," Kersey said of the dug-in positions. "It's a legacy task."
He said the training was molded by the brigade's experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq and by the division's renewed focus on preparing for fighting more conventional wars.
"We want as many complicated and unexpected tasks as possible," Kersey said. "One of the things we're looking for, especially in the 82nd, is adaptive leaders. We're always thrown in situations with vague information up front."
"It's a pretty good leader workout," he said.