Everything but the sand: Exercises prepare V Corps for Iraq duty
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — To make V Corps’ training to run Multinational Corps Iraq any more realistic, the Army would have to truck in a beachload of sand and a whole mess of heaters.
From ultra-tight security and aggressive role-playing reporters to a succession of simulated events so intricate and chaotic they could only be a rehearsal for war, about the only thing missing at the Grafenwöhr training area is the desert.
Dubbed Urgent Victory and Unified Endeavor, the twin rehearsals to certify Europe-based Army officers to take tactical command of coalition forces in Iraq this winter hit their midway point this week.
Following the six-day Urgent Victory dry run that ended Sunday, V Corps commanders raised the curtain Friday on the final dress rehearsal for their mission, Unified Endeavor, said Lt. Col. Brian McNerney, V Corps spokesman.
But even as the corps goes through its final practice run leading up to the deployment, one important question lingers: Who will lead the V Corps troops in Iraq?
Officially, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez is still in charge of the unit this week, and he has been present at parts of the exercise. But he isn’t expected to be its commander in Iraq, said Maj. Mark Wright, another V Corps spokesman.
“It is our understanding that we will have a new commander that will take us down to Iraq,” Wright said.
Neither V Corps nor U.S. Army Europe officials would say who is at the helm — or whether that person is even in Grafenwöhr for the training.
Regardless of who is running the show for V Corps, the 7th Army Training Command has worked hard to create the “contemporary Iraqi operating environment,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, 7th ATC commander.
Simulating the command experience is a major task involving thousands of personnel. “From an exercise perspective, this has been the biggest thing that we’ve ever done,” he said.
“Take a look around,” Hertling said. “Coast Guard, here in Grafenwöhr.”
To simulate the Iraq theater, exercise planners feed information about events in the scenario to V Corps staff and monitor their reactions.
In one scenario, riots and demonstrations broke out in a climate of rising sectarian violence stretching from Mosul to Samara, while at the same time a major religious conference got under way and unrelated attacks hit American supply routes. Reports of the events reached the command center the way they would downrange, through media coverage and reports from the field.
Planners throw everything but a made-up hurricane at the trainees in the intense, weeklong sessions, said Col. Roger King, USAREUR spokesman.
But while V Corps is training to react to sudden attacks and “high-intensity conflict,” the command’s mission isn’t centered on offensive maneuvers, said the corps’ chief of operations, Col. Gary Langford.
The mission is to pave the way for Iraqi security forces to completely support themselves, he said.
“In this environment, we’re already looking at a lot of things you see on the news,” Langford said.
That means an emphasis on assisting the Iraqi security forces, building infrastructure and bolstering civil affairs ventures, Langford said.
With recent announcements pegging a possible drawdown of troops that could start just after V Corps is due to arrive, the handover of Iraq back to its people is destined to be paramount to the command.
“We all understand that this is their country,” Langford said.