At Baumholder's new mock Iraq village, soldiers learn lessons they dare not forget
July 26, 2006
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — It’s not even 9 a.m., and she’s deep into her first performance of the day, already testing the absolute limits of her particular performing art.
If Spc. Erikauh Mitchell is not quite a star, then she’s at least the anti-hero in some training theatrics that sometimes feel like a very scary movie.
“Listen,” she said. “I’ve got crying scene coming up, if you’re going to be here!”
Screaming like a banshee in some pidgin English, Mitchell has her right fist drawn back, her face jutting forward into the face of a furious 1st Infantry Division soldier. He’s jabbing back at her, ordering her to leave the area.
On an Iraq-hot Saturday at the Baumholder training area, soldiers will body- slam her, choke her, wrestle with her and knock her around in a futile attempt to deal with Mitchell as “the girl from across the street.”
That’s Mitchell’s character in Individual Readiness Training. There is, of course, a method to her madness. Easily the most annoying people on the planet, she and the 10 or 15 soldiers from Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 94 Field Artillery Regiment play “civilians on the battlefield,” trying to smarten up replacement soldiers joining units already fighting real insurgents and terrorists.
Through playacting, Mitchell and the rest of the civilians on the battlefield (COBs) have a lot to teach the soldier who pays attention. Insurgents love to create distractions and diversions so their comrades can move weapons or attack from unsuspected quarters.
“That’s the main focus … to take them away from their mission so my guys can do their mission,” the Jamaican native said. “Keep them off balance, and discombobulated. Running around with their heads cut off.
“You just put yourself in the Iraqis’ place.”
And they do. “Sometimes, you make people mad enough to hit you,” Mitchell said.
“Two classes ago, she got into it with a lieutenant,” said Spc. Mathew Barger. “We had to break ’em up. She’s pretty good!”
“I like running around with bombs, so I get patted down a lot,” said Spc. Douglas Sons. “I’ve been on the ground 10 times today.”
“I got hit in the head with a [gun] barrel last time,” says Spc. Jose Salazar.
Saturday’s first IRT scenario through Baumholder’s new mock village goes pretty well, though one soldier manages to lose his weapon to the COBs. The second mission doesn’t go well at all, with a group of mostly support soldiers moving hesitantly and timidly, with no clue what to do as the COBs harangue them, and explosions go off all around them.
Tentative soldiers are easy to split up, Sons said. The COBs once got a group of four to split off without telling their comrades. Sons and other “insurgents” lured them into a house and shot them.
Another time, Sons said, he “killed” a soldier, then took his IBA (interceptor body armor) and weapon. Throwing them over his “Iraqi” togs, he joined his victim’s squad, jogging along beside them.
“They looked up and saw me, but they didn’t do anything! The good thing is, they’ll never make that mistake again.
“You learn when you screw up. I learn that way,” Sons said.
The COBS act like insurgents. They think like insurgents. They’re as unpredictable as terrorists. Just like in Iraq, where civilians change into combatants in the time it takes to set off bomb or fire an AK, COBs may not even know what they’re going to do until soldiers respond, Barger said.
“We’re improvising … like everyone improvises in Iraq.”