Soldiers who once played insurgents now fighting the real ones in Iraq
February 4, 2005
BAGHDAD — Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment have more experience attacking American troops than most Iraqi insurgents do.
When not in Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division, the 509th soldiers play enemy troops at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., providing realistic training on insurgent tactics for units deploying there, said 1st Lt. R. Dennis Eller, Company B executive officer.
“We play Iraqi citizens,” he said. “We occupy a village and hang out … and set up [insurgent] cells in the village.”
Once they’re out in the Louisiana wilderness, the 509th will spend 10 days attacking American troops with simulated mortars, gunfire and roadside bombs, giving them a concentrated, but harmless, version of what they’ll face in Iraq.
The units try to counter the 509th’s actions with everything from combat operations and civil affairs projects to getting the local religious leader on their side. The imam is played by the battalion’s chaplain.
The 509th has assumed the role of the opposing forces for many major U.S. deployments, such as to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.
Soldiers from both Company A and Company B say their experience as insurgents has helped them on their deployment to Iraq.
“It helps tremendously,” said Eller.
During his first patrol, he explained, they came across a house that they were told had previously held weapons caches. When 509th soldiers searched it themselves, they came across four more caches.
“It looked like the type of stuff we’d do,” Eller explained.
Spc. Michael Hickok of Company A said they’ve been able to find more roadside bombs — called IEDs by soldiers — and weapons caches than many other units because of their experience at Fort Polk.
“The spots where they place them is where we’d place them,” he said. “[We’ll say] ‘Ooh, that looks like a good spot for an IED.’ We’ll go and there’s an IED there. That’s happened a couple of times.”
Their training and experience isn’t foolproof, however. One of Company A’s soldiers was recently killed by a roadside bomb in the company’s Abu Ghraib patrol sector.
But the two companies patrol some of the toughest parts in their battalion’s sector. For Company A, it’s in downtown Abu Ghraib; Company B’s area is just north of Baghdad’s Haifa Street, the scene of many recent fights.
“We’ve been on their asses pretty tough,” said Company A’s Staff Sgt. Brian Morris about the insurgents.
When the companies head back to Fort Polk in the next few months, they’ll bring back a firsthand understanding of how the Iraqi insurgent operates. This is the largest deployment of the 509th’s soldiers since World War II.
“We’ll be able to give them the most accurate representation of what the Iraqi theater looks like,” said Eller about units deploying through JRTC. “It’s going to be great for … units coming through because they’ll get a level of training they’ve never had before.”