Thousands swarm at The Box in Hohenfels
HOHENFELS, Germany — More than 8,000 personnel — most headed for Iraq or Afghanistan — are participating in one of the largest mission rehearsal exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center.
The personnel includes more than 4,000 troops from the Iraq-bound 12th Combat Aviation Brigade and the Afghanistan-bound 173rd Airborne Brigade.
It also includes 1st Infantry Division Military Transition Teams headed to Afghanistan, troops from Poland, Bulgaria and Afghanistan plus police and staff from a Combat Surgical Hospital, according to Joint Multinational Training Command spokesman Maj. Eric Bloom.
The exercise began last week and ends Tuesday.
On Thursday, a 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment task force of Black Hawk, Apache and Chinook helicopters swarmed like angry bees over The Box training area at Hohenfels.
Hundreds of soldiers from 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment — “First Rock” — air-assaulted from the Black Hawks, which zoomed in just above the treetops and swooped into landing zones to drop off the troops.
Battalion commander Lt. Col. Mike Fenzel said the air assault prepares his soldiers for operations in Afghanistan.
“There are not a lot of effective roads there so the ability to conduct air assault operations all the way up to battalion level is critical,” he said as his men prepared to search a large area where First Rock would conduct operations and interact with role players acting as civilians on the battlefield.
While the soldiers set up checkpoints and stopped suspicious vehicles on roads in the training area, the 12th CAB helicopters circled overhead in a show of force that would have deterred all but the most fanatical insurgent role players.
Task Force 3-158 Black Hawk pilot Capt. James Tipple, 27, of Santa Ana, Calif., said he’d flown four missions during the exercise as of Thursday, including an air assault with Polish troops.
“We rehearsed it so they knew very well what was going on. I feel confident about working with the Polish in Iraq,” said Tipple, who served there in 2004.
Maj. Brian Hoff , the 12th CAB operations officer, said the 3-158 task force includes six Apaches, six Chinooks, 14 Black Hawks and two medical evacuation helicopters.
Because of the need to interact with the 173rd, the 12th CAB forces are using Afghan names for the towns and villages used in the exercise.
However, the aviators are practicing the techniques, tactics and procedures they will use in Iraq.
For example, they are training to perform complex attacks, which are common in Iraq instead of going after targets of opportunity the way they would in Afghanistan, Hoff said.
JMRC observer controller Maj Brian Hammer, 39, of Houston, said the large number of units, soldiers and role players in the exercise is a challenge for the people running it.
“Usually you get one unit that comes here with one focus so from a training perspective this is unique,” he said.