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Staff Sgt. Alex Zawadski, center right, squad leader of the 1st Squad, 1st Platoon tells soldiers what to expect before the start of Operation Surri Sweep.
Staff Sgt. Alex Zawadski, center right, squad leader of the 1st Squad, 1st Platoon tells soldiers what to expect before the start of Operation Surri Sweep. (Jason Chudy / S&S)
Staff Sgt. Alex Zawadski, center right, squad leader of the 1st Squad, 1st Platoon tells soldiers what to expect before the start of Operation Surri Sweep.
Staff Sgt. Alex Zawadski, center right, squad leader of the 1st Squad, 1st Platoon tells soldiers what to expect before the start of Operation Surri Sweep. (Jason Chudy / S&S)
From left, Spc. Mitchel Nieto, Spc. Steven Kovaleski, Sgt. Alan Skrapke, Spc. Patrick Young, all of Vicenza, Italy-based Company A, 2nd Battalion (Airborne) 503rd Infantry Regiment use 3x5-inch cards marked with the names of their mission’s objectives during what the Army terms a “rock drill” before the start of Operation Surri Sweep in Afghanistan.
From left, Spc. Mitchel Nieto, Spc. Steven Kovaleski, Sgt. Alan Skrapke, Spc. Patrick Young, all of Vicenza, Italy-based Company A, 2nd Battalion (Airborne) 503rd Infantry Regiment use 3x5-inch cards marked with the names of their mission’s objectives during what the Army terms a “rock drill” before the start of Operation Surri Sweep in Afghanistan. (Jason Chudy / S&S)
1st Lt. Robert Brandstetter, 1st Platoon leader watches as soldiers set up a “rock drill” in Afghanistan.
1st Lt. Robert Brandstetter, 1st Platoon leader watches as soldiers set up a “rock drill” in Afghanistan. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SWEENEY, Afghanistan — Even with all of the Army’s high-tech gear and ability to use satellite imaging, many military operations kick off not on a computer, nor on maps, but rather in the dirt.

Soldiers from Company A, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment spent part of Wednesday afternoon gathered around a rectangular patch of ground watching what the Army terms a “rock drill” before Thursday’s kickoff of Operation Surri Sweep.

The operation was launched to find insurgents in south-central Zabol province who had been placing improvised explosive devices and mines on area roads.

A handful of the Vicenza, Italy-based soldiers spent much of the day setting up the dirt map, with one soldier laying a line of dirt with a front loader to represent a line of mountains while, others measured out grid lines, marking them with pieces of white rope.

Once the terrain was in place, soldiers started nailing into the ground 3x5-inch cards marked with the names of the operation’s objectives.

Late in the afternoon, soldiers watched as each of the units moved its own 3x5 cards in a day-by-day explanation of what it would be doing and where it would be.

Some units used rocks to designate their units, hence the term “rock drill.”

“You can only make so much sense of an operation on paper, but once you see it on ground it makes it better,” explained 1st Lt. Garrett Kaye, company executive officer.

Soldiers say the drills help them better understand the entire picture of an operation.

“You know your piece, but this gives you a view of what the other elements are doing,” explained Sgt. Matthew Coulter, a forward observer with the company.

At one point, soldiers moved to a smaller, more detailed “map” on another patch of ground that showed the location of a handful of villages making up one of the operation’s key objectives.

“Since this is a company mission we enlarged the scale [of the rock drill] and actually used people moving [pieces] around, so it’s a larger-scale version [of the typical rock drill],” said Kaye.

Walking through the entire operation also gives soldiers one final chance to tweak specific parts of the plan.

“It’s going to make this thing run a lot more smooth,” said Coulter afterward.

Rock drills aren’t something specific to Able Company; it’s done throughout the Army.

“All officers learn it early in their training,” said Kaye.

“I’ve done them for battalion- or brigade-sized operations,” explained Coulter.

Whether at the company- or brigade-level, the rock drill, Kaye said, helps smooth out any rough edges for an operation.

“This is the best way that a commander can have a ‘warm and fuzzy’ (good feeling) that his troops know what’s going on on the battlefield,” he said.

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