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JOINT SECURITY AREA, South Korea — A door bursts open and four soldiers dash into the room blasting enemy targets with their M-4 rifles and rescue a civilian.

It is a scene played out numerous times in Iraq over the past 15 months, but for soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, it is only training.

The Currahees, as the battalion is known, are rehearsing the scene over and over to ensure they get it right when they deploy to the desert in late summer.

Last week Company C practiced clearing rooms at the Joint Security Area shoot-house near the Demilitarized Zone. The shoot-house is a specially-constructed building that lets soldiers practice close quarters indoor combat under the watchful eyes of observer controllers who monitor the action from catwalks above rooms inside the facility.

Company C got some expert coaching during its shoot-house session from newly arrived 1-506 Command Sgt. Maj. Hideshi Sasaki. The tough Japanese-American soldier, whose father was with the Japanese military in Hawaii, cleared high-rise buildings during combat in Panama.

One room his team cleared had two armed men in it, he said.

“We were all scared, obviously, but we had learned the floor drill meticulously. They were trying to shoot us. We killed them,” is all Sasaki has to say about the incident.

Now he is teaching the Currahees how to do the same thing to any insurgents they encounter in Iraqi buildings.

The soldiers worked in four-man teams and used plastic bullets designed to avoid ricochets inside the shoot-house. Before entering the building, teams practiced their moves in the “glass-house” — a structure with foot-high walls and the same floor pattern as the shoot-house.

The teams use methods made famous by police Special Weapons and Tactics teams, or SWAT units.

“The techniques are relatively similar except that we are not there to arrest,” said Sasaki, who added that police learned their techniques from the U.S. Army.

Each time a team enters a room they line up, one behind the other. Then the first soldier kicks in the door and the soldiers burst into the room. Each team member has an assigned field of fire that allows him to quickly kill any enemies in the room without committing fratricide.

Sasaki told the soldiers to concentrate on teamwork, unit cohesion, efficiency and marksmanship.

“It is a four-man job: two men to dominate and two men to kill. As long as they are working as a four-man unit, their chances are greatly increased. If they are working by themselves, it is not a good thing,” he said.

When the soldiers cleared rooms, they looked as if they were practicing for a strange sort of dance contest. The closest equivalent in the world of dance would be the two-step, Sasaki said. However, he said, the technique has the most in common with his favorite sport — rugby — or with American football.

In both sports, players must work in small teams and plan their movements at practice so they can support each other and know what their teammates are doing on the field, said Sasaki, who played halfback on the rugby field.

Soldiers should know how to play every position on the room-clearing team and teams should be able to absorb new members because they might not always find themselves in the same place during a battle, he said.

Teams need to be aggressive when they enter a room, Sasaki said. “Aggressiveness can save you. If you are aggressive they will hesitate to shoot back and that is what you want — the psychological high ground.

“Some people think you should get small, but I think get big and present the (body) armor to the enemy who are trying to kill you. If you both shoot at the same time your shot will kill him and his will bounce off your armor. He might as well shoot the wall if he shoots your plates because you will be okay,” Sasaki said.

Once individual teams had practiced, they trained in two-team units. While Sasaki watched, two four-man teams entered the shoot-house at the same time.

Alpha Team cleared the first room, shooting an “enemy” and freeing a female civilian. Then Beta Team cleared a second room, killing two “insurgents.”

“Clear … clear … clear,” yelled the soldiers in the second room. “Three enemy KIA and one female civilian. I have got a doorway in front and a doorway to my right,” reported a team leader via his walkie-talkie.

One of the soldiers training inside the shoot-house, Pfc. Kevin Shields from Chicago, said he’s practiced clearing rooms many times but was interested in some of the tactics taught by Sasaki.

“There were some changes today that made a lot of sense. The manner in which we came in the room in terms of how big we are and how open we are. It feels like we are coming in a lot more aggressive,” he said.

Alpha Team leader Sgt. Joseph Staver said the Currahees did not normally train to deal with civilians in the rooms they are clearing.

“We are normally taught to just go in shooting, but now there are civilians. You just have to keep your head up and make sure you are paying attention,” said Staver, who said he’s cleared more rooms than he can count in training.

“I am curious to see how it will work” in reality, 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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