Months of practice help troops prepare for Iraq
UDAIRI RANGE, Kuwait — From Fort Irwin, Calif., to Camp Shelby, Miss., to Udairi Range, Kuwait, the 3rd Battalion of the 103rd Armor has sweated through nearly six months of training, anticipation and preparation that has spanned two continents.
In the coming weeks, this Pennsylvania National Guard unit will begin its first rotation in Iraq and, these soldiers say, they are ready.
“All the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place,” said Staff Sgt. Chris Brownawell, of 2-112th Infantry, who is attached to the unit.
Added Sgt. Chris Arnold, of the 3-103rd, “Morale is high. People are ready for training to finish so the mission can start.”
This week the 3-103rd, and several other units, will rotate through a bevy of exercises in Kuwait before heading north. The units will set up and man traffic control points and work with locals who volunteer to play the “bad guys.” They will roll out in convoys and take on ambushes as they move from one location to the next.
There will be lots of live firing at both stationary and moving targets.
“This kind of gets their minds back into the game,” says 1st Lt. Shawn Fuellenbach, of the 2nd Battalion, 222nd Field Artillery of the Utah National Guard, as his unit reviews the fundamentals of close quarters marksmanship.
“It’s not so much the training that’s important now, it’s a confidence thing,” Fuellenbach said. “And they get to shoot a lot more live rounds, and the soldiers love that.”
At one roadside checkpoint, there is a kidnapping victim and bomb-making materials found in the back of a vehicle. The soldiers run through the scenarios one by one, carefully performing each step needed to remedy the situation.
“You’re going to have these issues up in Iraq, I’m telling ya,” barks a civilian instructor.
In these scenarios, the enemies are calm and unarmed. They offer the soldiers bottles of cold water and friendly handshakes at the end of the confrontation. It’s a calmer, quieter version of war that the soldiers know not to expect once they cross the border.
Roadside bombs and ambushes have become the leading killers of U.S. forces battling an insurgency stretching into its second year. It may be the 3-103rd’s first trip to Iraq, but the reality of the hardships of deployment has already sunk in. And they’ve already grasped the end goal of many troops already in Iraq.
“We’re ready to get started, so we can get finished,” Brownawell says.
Allison Perkins is a freelance writer living in Kuwait.