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Pacific edition, Tuesday, May 1, 2007

RODRIGUEZ RANGE, South Korea — When the tanks stop firing and the air barrages halt, the battle may come down to four grunts crawling through the hills.

Cpl. Adam Rawson and his team jumped out of their Bradley Fighting Vehicle with their rifles and raced up a steep hill full of trees and cover during training last week. Two soldiers on the left bounded up the hill, followed by two on the right.

“Just making sure everyone is in the right spot so nobody shoots each other,” Rawson later said.

On the way to an overlook of an enemy position, the team fired blank rounds until a controller called a green pop-up target “dead.”

The team cleared the hill in front of their Bradley as a small part of a complex exercise at Rodriguez Range. About 750 soldiers, including a support element, from the 2nd Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment are participating in a wide range of individual and crew qualifications.

The complex gunnery runs up to “Table 12,” which includes a four-tank platoon live-fire and five-Bradley platoon exercise with infantry dismounts.

However, this gunnery also represents a trend among 2nd ID units: inclusion of air support. Helicopters and A-10 close air-support planes from the 4th Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment have provided an extra layer of realism by working in concert with ground forces.

In February the 1st Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment followed a similar role with 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment.

It isn’t the first time air units have worked with ground forces at gunnery, but it wasn’t the norm previously.

“This is what the division wants to set as the standard,” said Capt. Colin Hoyseth, 2nd Infantry Division spokesman.

Battalion leaders say the simulated calls for air support — and sometimes, simulated misses — add an extra layer of realism.

That said, they still concentrate on individual tactics. Bradleys can’t always get into forests, where an enemy with a shoulder-fired weapon may be waiting in the bushes.

“The biggest threat to an armored element is a dismounted infantryman,” said Sgt. Maj. Edwin Kerns, 1-72’s command sergeant major.

With that threat in mind, even as the tanks continued firing their 120 mm guns, Rawson’s Alpha Company team and others like it kept roaming the hills.

“You get those battle drills down and you can’t really go wrong,” Rawson said.

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