‘Bombs,’ tense talks part of Hohenfels training for Iraq
November 15, 2007
HOHENFELS, Germany — Inside the heavily guarded building, the provincial leaders squabbled like a divisive city council.
“Brothers, please keep silent. Everyone will get his time,” said Omar Yassin, playing the role of a Salah Ad Din province deputy governor.
But the various leaders, speaking through their interpreter, spouted off from all corners. They battled with each other and questioned a group of commanders from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division about the limitations of help to be offered.
The council of leaders wanted to know: Could the commanders apply some pressure and get the province a better shake from the central government?
“I don’t trust the Baghdad government,” one of the sheiks said.
At the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team continued to be tested Tuesday as it prepares for its deployment to Iraq in early 2008.
The mission rehearsal exercise commenced in mid-October and has been steadily picking up speed. While the cultural and political savvy of the commanders was tested Tuesday inside the provincial council meeting set in Hohenfels’ make-believe “Samarra,” the security skills of 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry soldiers were challenged outside.
The soldiers searched buildings, hunting for insurgents and explosives as they sought to secure the area while the discussions unfolded inside.
About 200 soldiers were involved in Tuesday’s mission, and they had a little bit of everything thrown their way. Roadside bomb detonations, rocket-propelled grenade ambushes and a suicide bomber were among the challenges. The result: two soldiers “killed” and two more “injured” during Tuesday missions.
“In these nine days, the events are accelerated,” 1st Lt. Anthony Mayne said, referring to the final stretch of training. “This is valuable time for our soldiers. A large number of them have not deployed yet.”
The skill the new soldiers need to develop, he said, is their “tactical situational awareness.”
“That’s when you get that feeling on the back of your neck that something is wrong,” said Mayne, a battlefield captain monitoring Tuesday’s mission.
The training is the first step in building that battlefield common sense, he said.
But the soldiers weren’t the only ones challenged.
At the meeting with provincial leaders, Lt. Col. Michael Shrout, 2-6 commander; Lt. Col. Michael Mammay, commander of the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment; and Lt. Col. Matthew McKenna, assistant brigade commander, faced a group of sheiks with a mix of concerns.
The sheiks, angry with one another, disagreed about how a proposed provincial budget was being allocated. Then there were sewer systems in need of improvement, electricity to be restored, more jobs needed for residents. And there was the most pressing concern: insufficient security.
“We are all here together for a great goal,” said Asif Alsu Fayyad, the fictional director of the local council. “Peace, security and a better life for our citizens.”
It was a lot of business for one meeting.
The commanders, cautious in what they could commit to, offered empathy and the promise of partnership.
McKenna finally told the leaders that with greater security there will be more Iraqi police recruits and more economic development. But to achieve the goal, U.S. forces need to know when terrorists are in their midst, he said. The sheiks need to be partners.
“We cannot do it without your help,” McKenna said.
The meeting ended with handshakes, friendly words and assurances of cooperation. The convoy of commanders then departed.
Moments later, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the scene of the meeting, “injuring” two U.S. soldiers and six from the Iraqi army.
The soldiers worked to secure the area late into the night.