299th FSB soldiers train ahead of deployment to Iraq
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — In a key battle of the French Crusade near Babylon in 1249, “… the butchers, and all the other traffickers, men and women, who supplied the army with provision … rushed on the Saracens with such fury that they … drove the Turks beyond the lines,” wrote Jean de Joinville, one of the knights who fought in the campaign.
It was an early example of support soldiers facing combat in the Middle East, but it was not the last. At Grafenwöhr 370 soldiers from the 299th Forward Support Battalion, 1st Infantry Division are learning to hit back hard if their convoys are attacked on a mission to Iraq expected later this year.
About half the soldiers are Iraq veterans and many of them deployed with the 299th from February 2004 to March 2005, said Capt. Chris McLean, who commands the 299th’s Company C.
During the Iraq tour, the battalion conducted daily convoys in Salah ad Din province. The convoys were hit many times by roadside bombs and small-arms fire, and although some soldiers were wounded, all made it home alive, the 29-year-old Jacksonville, Fla., native said.
The Schweinfurt-based unit did live fire convoys before going to Iraq last time at Grafenwöhr and in Kuwait, but this week’s training is a lot more complex than it was back then, he said.
The range now has building facades to replicate Iraqi towns and friendly targets to simulate civilians on the battlefield. And 299th leaders are passing on lessons they learned in the desert along with information about new insurgent tactics, he said.
This time, the 299th will make more use of air power in support of convoys in Iraq, he said.
“We only called for air support a couple of times in Iraq, but we will do it more often this time,” McLean said.
During a live fire convoy Wednesday, the Company C soldiers reacted to a bomb and small-arms attack by unleashing fire from M-16s, .50-caliber machine guns and Mark 19 grenade launchers. Then they called in the air power.
Within minutes, 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment Apache attack helicopters whirled overhead, unleashing a hail of their own machine-gun fire on the targets.
“Aviation provides us with a bird’s-eye view. If you are in an urban environment the aviation can identify targets and let you know where safe zones are. And they bring more firepower to the fight,” McLean said.
One soldier doing live fire convoy training for the first time, Pfc. Ronald Singh, a fire control systems repair specialist, said the experienced soldiers taught him a lot.
“When we do the training, they always ask for input and everybody who has been downrange adds something,” the 21-year-old East Palo Alto, Calif., native said.
Spc. Joe Serna, of Amarillo, Texas, said he had experienced attacks in Iraq — the same things that the training is teaching soldiers to deal with.
“It doesn’t matter how many times it happens, it’s always an adrenalin rush,” the 25-year-old welder said.
Another fire control systems repair specialist, Spc. Robin Reed, 24, of Kettering Ohio, said she got a buzz out of the training, but added: “It’s a lot of fun here, but when it happens for real, it’s a whole ’nother story.”