European edition, Wednesday, May 2, 2007

HOHENFELS, Germany — Blast-proof blankets and carefully placed explosive charges are allowing teams to enter buildings and walled compounds faster than ever during war missions, according to soldiers training at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center this week.

Twenty soldiers from throughout U.S. Army Europe are participating in a quarterly urban breach course that teaches them the latest ways to quickly enter buildings.

One of the JMRC Warhog Team observer controllers teaching the course, Master Sgt. Justin Lucios, 40, of Pohnpei, Micronesia, said each student participates in 30 explosive breaches over two weeks.

Another Warhog instructor, Master Sgt. Thomas Cochran, 39, of Colver, Pa., said the course teaches soldiers to use the minimum amount of explosives to clear a breach.

“The principle is minimum demolition and maximum effect. This allows the entrance team to be as close as possible to the entry point,” he said.

The course teaches soldiers to blast open doors with C4 explosive and det cord. It also teaches them to use explosives to knock down walls and blow holes in roofs to gain entry.

The final event of the course involves four teams that raid a house conducting simultaneous breaches at two points on an outer wall and a breach of the building’s door to gain entry, he said.

The course teaches fragmentation management and where to position entry squad members to keep them out of danger. Soldiers learn about the pressure created by a blast and where fragmentation goes, he said.

“It takes 3.4 pounds of pressure to blow an eardrum and 40 pounds of pressure to burst a lung,” explained Cochran, who routinely set off 50,000-pound loads of Iraqi ammunition when he served with the 101st Airborne Brigade in Mosul during Operation Iraqi Freedom I.

On Tuesday, two teams of soldiers practiced breaching a chain-link fence and a concrete block wall using explosives.

Before the team members moved into position, they were advised to keep their heads down by an OC who asked: “Has anyone here been hit by shrapnel?”

When one of the trainees raised his hand, the OC said, “It doesn’t feel good, does it?”

Soon, the trainees were crouched behind a protective blanket next to a fence while two others attached C4 and det cord to it. When the blast went off, the men were sheltered by the blanket and could quickly move through the breach moments later.

A short distance away, another team of trainees used the same technique but more explosive to blast its way through a concrete block wall.

One of the trainees, Company C, 40th Engineer Battalion Spc. Walford Galloway, 35, of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, said he had worked with explosives when his unit deployed to Iraq from 2005 to 2006 but the course refined his knowledge.

Another 40th Engineer trainee, Spc. Rogelio Reteria, 31, of Dallas, said it was the first time he had used the protective blanket that allows soldiers to move within 15 feet of a blast.

“Without the blanket, we would have to be 30 feet away. The blanket is a great aid to helping us breach faster,” 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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