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CAMP CASEY, South Korea — Opposition forces have been told not to pull any punches during training exercises designed to give Iraq-bound 2nd Infantry Division soldiers the skills they need to survive a year in the desert.

At Camp Casey, support units headed for Iraq are learning to defend convoys against attacks by insurgents armed with machine guns, sniper rifles, improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades.

Support units usually do not train in combat arms. However, experienced soldiers said, in Iraq such units spend much of their time on the road, delivering supplies such as ammunition, food, water and fuel to far-flung bases — work that makes them prime targets for insurgents.

Soldiers from Task Force 2nd Battalion, 72nd Armored Regiment have set up the convoy training to give the Iraq-bound troops a taste of what they might encounter: opposition force soldiers pulling nasty tricks such as driving off in unguarded vehicles or picking up unattended weapons and shooting their owners.

“We are not trying to make it easy for them,” said the regiment’s command sergeant major, James Daniels. “We are trying to make it harder so they can see everything. It is harder than reality. The more you sweat in training, the less you will bleed on the battlefield.”

So in Monday’s pouring rain, 29 soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade, 2nd ID, climbed into eight HMWVs (high-mobility wheeled vehicles) and a truck and began traversing a two-lane road linking Camp Casey and Camp Hovey.

First a smoke canister exploded, simulating an IED that “damaged” an HMWV. Then “insurgents” burst from the woods. Using 20 “civilians” on the battlefield as cover, they fired on the convoy.

Sgt. Darren McCray was the first to react.

“I saw a guy peeking out and fired a few shots at him. I killed him. I killed a lot of them,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Alex Greer was in the third vehicle when the IED went off.

“We were trying to get past it. The vehicle in front was hit,” he said. “We got out and started pulling security around the broken vehicle. Snipers came out of the woods trying to use the civilians for protection. I got one at least.”

The ambush flared into a firefight, leaving all attackers dead or captured and several HHC soldiers dead.

Greer, one of the unit’s most experienced soldiers, said he went on more than 60 convoys during his first tour to Iraq last year — including one in which snipers ambushed his unit.

“We were in a convoy of four vehicles headed back to Camp Dogwood, south of Baghdad,” he said, “when a sniper shot out the rear tire on one of the HMWVs.”

The next attack in Monday’s training came near the Camp Hovey gym in an area designed to simulate an urban environment. About 30 “civilians” emerged from a “mosque” and began to abuse soldiers while an “Iraqi policeman” stood by and civilian vehicles blocked the road.

Observer controller Staff Sgt. Michael Lankford was impressed with some of the soldiers’ crowd-control techniques. “There was a guy saying, ‘Back up, back up!’ and they (the civilians) were moving,” he said.

However, while the civilians distracted the soldiers, a team of “insurgents” rushed from behind a building, fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the convoy, then vanished.

Lt. Col. John Salvetti, Task Force 2nd Battalion commander, said this was to teach soldiers to scan 360 degrees to identify the rocket team even while distracted.

“Even though there is a crowd here, people better be looking deeper to have situational awareness and understanding,” he said.

The convoy quickly moved on until it was attacked by a pair of snipers.

Salvetti said logistics convoys should suppress snipers, keep moving “and make sure you report the location of the snipers to follow-on units.”

By the time the convoy reached its destination, 15 of its soldiers had been killed and eight wounded.

Observer controller Staff Sgt. Jason Crosby said several troops did well during the exercise, including a soldier who single-handedly carried a wounded comrade to a vehicle when no litters were available.

“On the individual level, there were some kids out there doing the right thing. There were people out there that came with their game face on,” he said.

Capt. Eric Morris, the convoy commander, said his soldiers would do the exercise twice more before going to Iraq.

“We learned a lot. … We learned the importance of communication. And we need to make sure everyone understands the mission and make sure we incorporate a recon prior to leaving,” he said.

“We have very few combat arms guys, so we don’t do this on a daily basis,” he said. “This is the most training we have done in combat arms infantry tactics in a long time.”

The rain made the training better, said 1st Sgt. Regan Ward.

“You never know what you are going to run into because most wars are not fought on sunny days,” 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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