Fort Eustis soldiers learn by trial and error

By ALI ROCKETT | Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) | Published: January 16, 2016

FORT A.P. HILL, Va. (Tribune News Service) — About a half-mile into the woods, a small group of soldiers lay in wait near a road to ambush approaching enemies.

Their helmets, camouflaged for the lighter shades of a Middle Eastern desert rather than deeper browns of a Virginia winter, peeked out over the tall grass that rustled with the slightest movement, giving away their position. That, and the tips of their rifles.

Two soldiers who were posing as enemy combatants approached the "ambush" site, where a Claymore mine was in clear view.

"Bang!" yelled the person holding the detonator as a chorus of simulated gunfire erupted from the soldiers crouching in the tall grass.

The ambush was just one of several drills the soldiers from the 73rd Transportation Company out of Fort Eustis had to accomplish during a three-day training this week at Fort A.P. Hill, about two hours from their home post, between Richmond and Fredericksburg. They also had to spot improvised explosive devices and react when one was set off; destroy an enemy bunker, while taking cover when being fired upon; and navigate to these different tasks with only a map, compass and grid coordinates.

The 73rd Transportation Company from Ft. Eustis conducted field training exercise at Fort A.P. Hill, VA . A mission would begin with an operations briefing, giving a squad leader all information to execute the mission, including objective location, resources available, enemy forces and equipment...

Many of these skills are learned in basic training and are old hat to most soldiers. But this typically water-bound company operates part of the "Army's Navy," conducting operations just off-shore or pier-side where there is little need for rucksacks or rifles.

"It's been so long since some of these guys have done this," said Sgt. 1st Class David Lineberry, who was overseeing the ambush exercise. "You learn it at basic, but once you get to your job, this stuff falls behind."

Lineberry said the training was a bit of a "treat" for troops — although some seemed to miss their sea legs.

"It's a change of scenery," said Spc. Dylan Dixon, who led the squad through the ambush portion of the exercise. Another purpose of the training was to give younger soldiers a chance to lead. "It was fun being in charge. It give me more perspective of what my seniors are going through. There's a lot going on."

While the training is required, it's unlikely that soldiers in this company will face similar scenarios while deployed because of the nature of their job. That's not to say they won't deploy. The 73rd Transportation Company is part of the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), said to be the most deployed unit in the Army.

"The scenarios themselves are not as important as how they react," said Capt. Joy Harry, the company's commanding officer. "We have to be ready to fight at any moment."

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brandton Rohde played one of the enemy forces in the ambush drill. He wasn't armed with a gun, but wore a backpack. Pretending to regain consciousness after the mine exploded, Rohde waited until four of the soldiers inched closer to inspect his backpack before reaching behind him to "detonate" a simulated bomb inside.

"You're dead, you're dead and so are you," he said, pointing to four of the soldiers. It was a teaching moment.

He told them rather than coming within range of what could be a suicide bomber, they should have tried to communicate from a distance.

"The gun is the universal language," he said. "You have packs on. You could have someone demonstrate what you wanted me to do."

He also reminded them that the rules of engagement say only to fire when fired upon — though their instructions were to take out the enemy. Rohde said he could clearly see the mine they'd set and to try to conceal it better next time,

"This could have happened a hundred ways in real life, and a hundred different things could have happened," he said. "You don't have time to think through all the possibilities, you just have to react with your best instincts."

©2016 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
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