Artillery troops polish their skills in the sand
August 17, 2004
UDAIRI RANGE, Kuwait — The 2nd Infantry Division field artillery soldiers took another step toward becoming infantrymen by practicing urban combat skills at Udairi Range last week.
Because three batteries from 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment will take turns working as infantry companies during a yearlong deployment to Iraq, they’ve worked months to prepare as part of 2nd ID’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, the Strikeforce.
The 2-17 soldiers spent two months training in South Korea for their new roles before heading to the Middle East last week. Now they are adapting their new skills to the desert environment at Udairi Range.
Capt. John Marley, commander of 2-17’s Battery A, spent three days last week training his unit at Udairi’s Military Operations Urban Terrain site.
The site includes a series of ranges where soldiers start out rehearsing room-clearing techniques and move on to a live-fire shoot-house — a small plywood village built in the desert surrounded by tall sand berms to keep bullets from flying too far.
“We did this in some abandoned barracks at Camp Hovey (in South Korea) and at the Korean Training Center, but this will be the first live fire with this type of training,” Marley said.
The artillerymen appear to relish the infantry work in the desert, he said.
“It is a different type of training for them, and they are just eating it up,” he said.
Life on the range is tough. The 2-17 soldiers have worked hard to survive the heat and sandstorms, minimizing the pain by sleeping in air-conditioned tents during the hottest part of the day, Marley said.
On Saturday morning, soldiers from 2-17’s Battery C rehearsed urban combat moves in “rooms” marked by sandbags laid on the ground. A former Special Forces instructor kept watch.
“The women and children are going to be screaming. Everybody will be scared to death,” the instructor told the soldiers.
“As the team leader, the decisions you make may or may not cost them their lives,” he told one team leader.
“What’s wrong with this guy’s muzzle? It is poking through the door. Elbows down when you come through — give them a small target,” the instructor said as the soldiers repeatedly entered and exited a “room.”
For Pfc. Stephen Sherwood of Battery A, the live-fire portion of the training was the highlight of his time on the range.
“We had to cease fire three times because there were camels all over the range,” he said.
Pvt. Michael Lopez, also of Battery A, believes he saw sheep being herded across the range by Bedouins.
“They were huge, the biggest sheep I have ever seen,” he said.
“Maybe they were goats,” suggested Sherwood.
One of the hardest missions, said the soldiers, was attempting to free the bus that brought them to the range after it got stuck in a sand dune.
“We had to push it for two hours. There were about 20 guys pushing, and we only pushed it 300 yards,” Lopez said.
“It wasn’t a very fun way to start the day,” added Sherwood, taking a bite of beef ravioli from his Meals, Ready to Eat.
The bus was still stuck in the sand near where the soldiers ate.
A few miles down the road at another range, a group of 2-17 soldiers practiced reaction shooting.
Sgt. 1st Class Kippy Samuel, platoon sergeant with Battery A, 2nd Platoon, inspected targets shot by his drivers.
“When someone is a good shot that whole black silhouette part is torn out,” Samuel said, gazing at a mutilated paper target.
“My drivers have to shoot good. In case I get hurt they have got to be able to kill the enemy,” he said.
The Special Forces instructors impressed Samuel.
“You can tell they are Special Forces because of the way they walk,” he said. “They have a swagger. They are almost as cocky as field artillerymen.”