A 2-9 Op For Bradley takes cover behind some bushes during force-on-force training at Rooster 8 training area last Wednesday.

A 2-9 Op For Bradley takes cover behind some bushes during force-on-force training at Rooster 8 training area last Wednesday. (Seth Robson / S&S)

CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — It was friend against friend when 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment soldiers went head-to-head at the Rooster 8 training area near South Korea’s Demilitarized Zone last week.

The force-on-force training, using blank ammunition and training lasers, was designed to test soldiers’ skills when moving to contact the enemy, said Staff Sgt. Louis Terron, 40, of Hoboken, N.J, one of the 2-9 soldiers taking part.

During training Wednesday, in a rugged valley blanketed with snow and ice, Terron, 2-9’s 1st Platoon, D Company platoon sergeant, was part of a Blue (friendly) Force that consisted of four Bradley Fighting Vehicles and 28 personnel.

The D Company soldiers were taking on an “Op For” (Opposition Force) of soldiers from 2-9’s B Company. Terron said they were simulating an enemy equipped with two dug-in BMPs, or Soviet-era armored personnel carriers. The attack started when a D Company sniper team took up a position on a hilltop overlooking the valley. Once snipers spotted the enemy “BMPs” (actually a pair of Bradleys) the Blue Force called for indirect fire, simulated by an M-113 armored personnel carrier spraying smoke, around the Op For positions.

The indirect fire and smoke were intended to “shake up” the enemy before the attack came, Terron said. “Then we will use two sections to leap frog forward until we make contact and destroy them,” he added.

Another D Company soldier involved in the training, Pfc. Casey Belovsky, 21, of Lake Forest, Calif., carried an M-249 “saw gun” as he prepared to go into battle “Our objective is to go to the far side of that hill, kill any enemy dismounts we find and create an over-watch position so the Bradleys can move through,” he said.

“Right now, I am just thinking about getting up to that hill as fast as I can. Yesterday we went down the same route and took out the enemy scouts, so hopefully we will have something along the same lines,” he added.

There was keen rivalry between the Blue Force and Op For soldiers; whoever performed best during the training had bragging rights, Belovsky said.

“The conversation usually doesn’t stop until the next mission,” he added.

One of the 2-9 soldiers who acted as the enemy earlier in the day, Staff Sgt. Steven King, 31, of Shallote, N.C., said the Op For’s goal was to disrupt the Blue Force attack. “We weren’t using the same tactics we would use if we were the Blue Force,” he said.

Other Op For soldiers said they exposed themselves to the Blue Force troops and fired to give their positions away.

Cpl. Garret Bond, 23, of Camden N.J., was part of an Op For team in a defensive perimeter around a hill they were supposed to protect, he said.

The extreme cold at Rooster 8 was a challenge, but was not as bad as last winter in South Korea, he said: “Last winter over here, we had a real bad one where our tent flooded and all our gear got soaked.”

Troops training in the cold conditions make themselves warm any way they can, Bond said. “That way you can drive on and continue the mission. If you let the cold get to you, you are not going to be able to do what you are supposed to do,” said the former high school roller hockey player.

Another 2-9 soldier fighting with the Op For, 1st Lt. Aaron Brown, 25, of Detroit, Mich., said it was easy to “dig in” his troops and machines.

“They have hiding spots all around here — berms and trees and mounds of dirt. We dismounted on a ridge and waited for their dismounts to attack,” he said.

“They took an hour to find us. We moved down the ridgeline and when the Bradleys came up we started firing on them to get them to notice us,” he said. Brown added that all the Op For troops were “killed” in the engagement.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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