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Lt. Col. Steve Miske, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division executive officer. In the background is Schwend, a military operations and urbain terrain facility in Hohenfels, Germany.
Lt. Col. Steve Miske, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division executive officer. In the background is Schwend, a military operations and urbain terrain facility in Hohenfels, Germany. (Seth Robson / S&S)

HOHENFELS, Germany — “Atmospherics” — the ability to sense danger by watching people’s behavior — will be a crucial survival skill for Iraq-bound soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, the unit’s executive officer says.

That ability was stressed during a three-week mission rehearsal exercise that ended Monday at Hohenfels.

“Soldiers need to be able to read the populace,” said Lt. Col. Steve Miske, 37, of Greenport, N.Y. “If people are waving, that is a good sign. But if all the parents are bringing their kids inside or you go to a street that is normally busy and there is nobody around, there could be danger.”

The soldiers are heading back to their base at Schweinfurt this week after almost two months in the field. During the exercise, soldiers battled 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment soldiers acting as insurgents and interacted with hundreds of Germans playing Iraqi civilians.

“They did a good job giving us the type of challenges we will face in Iraq. It is all about trying to win over the populace and separate the insurgents,” Miske said.

The exercise also emphasized the need for U.S. forces to minimize collateral damage, Miske said.

“On any given day ... it is hard to get the benefit of doubt from the populace. All they see is U.S. soldiers shooting Muslims,” he said. “We have to get the insurgents, but we have to do it in a way that is noninvasive to the populace.”

The unit has not been informed exactly where it will go in Iraq. And although the unit’s leaders have been told when the unit will deploy, that information has not been made public, he said.

“We are going back to Schweinfurt to conduct after-operations recovery of our equipment and we will go on two weeks’ block leave with our families in April. When we come back, we will prepare to deploy,” Miske said.

First Lt. Erik Sarson, 25, of Latrobe, Pa., who serves with 2nd Platoon, 1st Battalion, 77th Armored Regiment, said the highlight of the training for his unit was helping raid a Military Operations in Urban Terrain site.

Sarson, a veteran of the combat team’s last Iraq mission, said the training was realistic but that there are a lot of things in Iraq that cannot be duplicated in Germany.

“You can only have so many people driving on the roads here, whereas in Iraq you have traffic all the time, and you have to decide who is an enemy and who is friendly,” he said.

Another 1-77 Iraq veteran, Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Ackerson, 36, agreed the training was realistic.

“Some days (during the mission rehearsal exercise), you wouldn’t get any enemy contact at all. We went a whole week before we got enemy contact. The same thing will happen downrange. You will think nothing’s going to happen and when you least expect that is when they hit you,” the Oak Harbor, Wash., native said.

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