RODRIGUEZ RANGE, South Korea — The civilians that 1st squad, 1st platoon first encountered on the urban training range Thursday didn’t look Iraqi, but any combat veteran would recognize their behavior.

Cries of “mister, mister!” rang out. Local elders offered cigarettes to the security team while the squad leader and others walked into “city hall” to escort the mayor of a fictional Iraqi town.

It’s pretty realistic up to this point and it’s about to deteriorate along the same lines that many of the soldiers in the 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry, Company A have seen before.

Staff Sgt. Nicholas Lovato, a first time squad leader, received lots of questions from new soldiers about his time in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division in 2003 and 2004.

“Some had a hard time believing that you can be in a city where there are a lot of enemies, but then there are a lot of friendly people too,” Lovato said. “And you can be friendly, too, but you still have to have an edge.”

The gunfire began as Lovato walked out of city hall amidst scrambling civilians who looked, more or less, like the guys shooting at them from a second floor building ahead.

Who do you shoot? Do you see the guy videotaping you in a different building?

If you’re the squad leader, did you remember to call “contact” to higher headquarters while directing your troops where to fire?

Oh, and by the way — don’t conceal yourself next to the roadside bomb in the nearby bush.

With most of the unit’s leadership at the Bradley Fighting Vehicle qualifications on another part of the range, Thursday’s scenario was geared toward testing the decisions of squad leaders, said battalion commander Lt. Col. Michael Rauhut.

“The whole purpose is to put these guys in a tactical dilemma,” Rauhut said. “This is all based on what we see coming out of Iraq.”

Soldiers also were expected to gather intelligence on the fly.

Intelligence officer 1st Lt. Robbie Medlock identified four “high value targets” that could present themselves. The names used were actual wanted insurgents; 2-9 substituted pictures of soldiers dressed as opposing forces.

Parts of the scenario were kept intentionally vague as well; for example, their mission was to move into a new town without a U.S. presence and their task is to establish and support a local government.

Protecting the mayor was part of that mission, but soldiers found weapons, cell phones and other insurgent tools. The scenario changed based on how they pieced things together and how they reacted to the role players. It’s that kind of uncertainly that battalion veterans say they want soldiers to understand.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now