HOHENFELS, Germany — It’s taken two years, but when Company A, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment leaves for Afghanistan next month virtually every “Op For” soldier working at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center here will have downrange experience.

The 1-4, which acts as the “Op For” — opposing force — during exercises at the JMRC for other units headed downrange, has sent each of its companies on six-month rotations to Afghanistan since 2005.

Maj. Sean Fisher, 1-4 operations officer, said Monday that Company A is the last of the battalion’s line companies to head downrange.

The 1-4 companies play an important role in fighting insurgents in Afghanistan. But they also use their experience to prepare other soldiers for downrange missions when they come to the center, he said.

“They have lived the fight and now they can come back and bring that realistic environment to the JMRC,” said Fisher, who will join Company A in Afghanistan.

In a few weeks, about 160 Company A soldiers will replace 1-4’s Company B, which is fighting in Zabul province, Afghanistan, under the Romanian army’s 33rd Mountain Infantry Battalion.

“It is full-spectrum operations in the province,” Fisher said. “It can be combat patrols one day and handing out medical supplies the next, but our responsibility is security. We work in conjunction with the local Provincial Reconstruction Team and the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army.”

On Monday, Company A was halfway through a mission rehearsal exercise that involves practicing the sorts of missions they will receive downrange. The soldiers have been interacting with role-players acting as civilians on the battlefield and working with a platoon of 30 Afghan soldiers brought to Hohenfels for the training.

Company A soldier Spc. Jason Gurganus, 19, of Fayetteville, N.C., sweated in the heat Monday afternoon following a mission that involved crawling through waist-high grass and shooting blank rounds at pop-up targets.

Gurganus, who will be on his first downrange mission, said he’s looking forward to doing it for real in Afghanistan.

“I need the experience if I’m going to move on to another unit,” he said.

Another Company A soldier headed off to war for the first time, Sgt. Carson Hilman, said he is impressed with the Afghan soldiers.

“They’re quick on their feet. You’ll see them at the wood line one minute, and before you know it, they are at the top of the hill,” said the 21-year-old Hayti, S.D., native.

Fortunately, Company A will patrol mostly in up-armored Humvees in Afghanistan, he said.

The Company A soldiers are not all greenhorns. Several members of other companies within the battalion have volunteered to head downrange again and they are passing on their knowledge to soldiers such as Hilman and Gurganus.

“Guys who have been there before are giving us some good information about the lay of the land, although things change,” Hilman said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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