Role-playing helps 1st AD troops sharpen diplomatic skills
HOHENFELS, Germany — One day after a fake grenade attack killed two fake villagers in the fake town of Rusafa — a Bavarian replica of the real east Baghdad district — infantry company commander Capt. Chris Kuzio took off his helmet and attacked his new job: diplomacy.
Kuzio, a baby-faced 29-year-old infantryman with 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, sat down with the town’s reticent fake sheiks — surprisingly good amateur actors bused in from around Germany — and began the delicate task of negotiation, information-gathering, small talk.
The incident, played out during the 1st Armored Division’s monthlong Military Readiness Exercise wrapping up this week at Hohenfels Training Area, was a clear departure from Kuzio’s last tour in Iraq in 2003, when, he said, the focus was on “shooting the bad guys.”
This time, he said, his upcoming deployment — which division officials said could occur in late winter or early spring — is “teaching us a lot more to be diplomats.”
That shift — infantrymen as smooth-talkers, not just quick-shooters — has been a tough transition for many of his younger soldiers, he said. Kuzio said he has helped his junior soldiers make the transition from shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later to question, question, question by drawing an analogy he hopes they will understand.
“I tell them it’s like trying to talk up a girl at a bar,” he said, adding that he encourages the soldiers of his company, which will be attached to 1st Armor in Iraq, to interact with locals, sample local wares and to engage in casual conversation (a recommendation enthusiastically followed during the training exercise, as many of the fake villagers were attractive Bavarian women).
On the serious side, division officials say they’ve made a concerted effort this time to train leaders — from the squad level up — on the importance of Iraqi culture, history, customs and more.
“Many of these techniques for dealing with locals came from Bosnia,” said Lt. Col. Chris DeLaRosa, a member of Hohenfels’ Joint and Multinational Readiness Group. “We can’t go in there and destroy a whole town just to find one person. Because we’ll never get out of there.”
But if the fake villagers are any indication, the soldiers face a bumpy road.
“They did good by removing the dictator,” a man going by the name of Al Abu Namaal, Rusafa’s fake electronics shop owner, said in broken English. “But we don’t have enough security here.”
When asked if he intended to cooperate with the troops, he paused and looked around his shop, damaged by the attack the day before.
“I will help them if they help me,” he said.
The town’s fake sheik was hopeful, though, citing civil projects: garbage pickup, improvements to the local school, recruitment in the city’s 600-member police force.
“If we go on and achieve such things as we’ve done already,” he said, “we will do well.”