Wiesbaden training course gets newcomers, returnees ready for Iraq
WIESBADEN, Germany — This time last year, Staff Sgt. Ken Ramos was working with Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq as a psychological warfare expert assigned to 10th Special Forces Group.
Now, he’s wearing the 1st Armored Division’s “Old Ironsides” patch and finds himself on his way back to the war zone while mentoring fresh-faced younger troops bound for combat for the first time.
Like most of the hundreds of soldiers who have signed into the Germany-based division since January, Ramos was put into a rear detachment to await the return of the division as it prepared to complete its yearlong deployment in May.
But with the division extended for an extra four months, Ramos and 53 other soldiers are part of the first Individual Replacement Training class since the division shut the school in December in anticipation of Old Ironsides’ return.
Division officials say the course will soon be operating at 200 students per class as fresh troops are surged into Iraq to reinforce the division.
“I call this ‘Baghdad for Dummies,’ ” says Ramos of the nine-day training course, which started up again April 19 at Wiesbaden Army Airfield shortly after the extension was announced.
“It’s good training, good basic skills for the new guys and a good refresher for those of us who have already been over there.”
The course covers everything from combat first aid and basic patrolling skills to how to search a vehicle for explosives and what to do when your convoy gets ambushed.
“I tell these guys,” says Ramos, “go ahead and fall asleep in class, but when your convoy gets hit by an [improvised explosive device] and you’ve got to pull the body of your buddy out of the Humvee, you’ll wish you hadn’t.”
He says most of his classmates are paying close attention.
One day during training, his point is driven home. During patrolling drills, about a half-dozen students walk past a not-so-well- hidden mock explosive device before someone in the student platoon notices it.
“If this was real, we’d have a lot of dead soldiers right now,” Staff Sgt. Ed Rodriquez, one of the IRT instructors, tells the class.
Like most of the instructors, Rodriquez is also an Iraq veteran.
His training partner, Staff Sgt. Daryl Scott, was with the Georgia-based 3rd Infantry Division, which led the spearhead of the invasion.
Scott stands in front of the sheepish-looking student patrol. “You have to stay aware of your surroundings at all times,” he hounds them. “Soon, this is going to be the real thing.”
Scott says he’s glad that he can put his experiences in Iraq to good use.
“Training is great, but being able to pass on real experience is even better,” he says.
A buddy of his was killed by an IED last year.
“Personally,” he says, “I have a real big problem with something blowing up in my face, so I just learned as much as I possibly could about IEDs.”
And now he’s passing on that knowledge.
Sgt. 1st Class George Rodgers, another instructor-veteran, likes to pass along a tip he learned from British troops, who have honed their city patrolling skills through years of guerrilla fighting in Northern Ireland.
“They call it the ‘five-meter check,’” says Rodgers. “It’s probably saved more lives in Iraq than anything else.”
The basic principle is to focus attention on searching the area immediately around you, he says.
“You look at everything in a five-meter circle,” Rodgers says, “if you stop, you just gradually make the circle bigger.”
Being an IRT trainer is bittersweet for Rodgers. He had to leave his platoon in Iraq to go to the Advanced Noncommissioned Officers Course.
“I want to get back to my men,” he says bluntly. “But this training is important — if nothing else to get them thinking about what it’s really like down there.”
Pfc. Kevin Tucker has been thinking about what it must be like in Iraq for months now. An interrogator for the division’s 501st Military Intelligence Battalion, Tucker just graduated from initial training a few months ago, eager for action. Arriving in January, however, he was told he’d missed his chance to go downrange.
“I was extremely disappointed,” says Tucker. “A lot of us were worried about being ostracized because of that intangible wall that separates those who wear a combat patch from those who do not.”
Now, among the IRT students, Tucker is on his way and thankful — more than anything — for the hand-me-down wisdom of the veterans.
“They are very battle focused,” he says. “And even though a lot of them have seen extremely traumatic things, their attitudes are impeccable. And their experience is priceless.”