Mideast edition, Saturday, June 30, 2007

HOHENFELS, Germany — More soldiers than ever are training to go downrange as individuals, according to instructors overseeing Theater Specific Individual Readiness Training here.

Master Sgt. Donald Wells, noncommissioned officer in charge of the training, which normally happens twice a month, said more than 250 soldiers and 15 civilians are at Hohenfels this week preparing to join units downrange in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“This is the largest class we’ve had so far,” the 41-year-old Houston native said as he watched soldiers on Thursday train to zero M-16, M-4 and M-9 weapons on a shooting range at Hohenfels’ Joint Multinational Readiness Center.

Most times the training involves fewer than 150 soldiers, he said. However, the latest class is bigger because the training was not held earlier this month while thousands of 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Regiment troops trained at JMRC for their own deployment to Iraq.

The readiness training started at Hohenfels this year. It was done at Grafenwöhr in 2005 and 2006. The training is for individuals replacing soldiers in downrange units as well as Department of Defense civilians and contractors headed to Iraq and Afghanistan, Wells said.

The latest class includes soldiers ranked from private to colonel, along with civilians, he said.

The program includes: weapons zeroing and qualification; media awareness; cultural awareness; first aid; roadside bomb training; nuclear, biological and chemical warfare training; and close-quarters marksmanship, along with briefings on the laws of war and medical threats, he said.

Because the class is so large JMRC observer controllers are helping run some of the classes, such as teaching soldiers how to react to roadside bombs, he said.

One of the soldiers doing the readiness training, Pfc. Kevin Pemberton, left Friday to join the 173rd Airborne Brigade Support Battalion in Afghanistan.

The 22-year-old Stafford, Conn., native said Thursday that it would be his first trip downrange. He said the best part of the training course was reflexive fire training that involved reacting to contact.

Pemberton said he had not heard much about 173rd’s work in Afghanistan other than the unit is fighting at high altitude and temperatures can be hot.

Another soldier doing the training was Sgt. Timothy Wolfe. The 39-year-old is a reservist who lives in Schillingsfurt, in the German state of Bavaria, with his German wife, and volunteered to serve a year in Kuwait working at a port.

The Kuwait mission is a chance for Wolfe to land a U.S. government job after years working on the German economy, he said.

“While I’m down there I’m going to be putting in resumes for something in the finance branch,” said Wolfe, who got out of the regular Army in 1992.

The readiness training is bringing him up to date with the way the Army operates in the Middle East these days.

“I was in the first Gulf War, but this is something new. Back then, we didn’t have all these [improvised explosive devices] and other stuff that the Iraqis are throwing at us,” he 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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