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Military Revamps Basic Training
February 28, 2005

WASHINGTON - Prompted by increasingly sophisticated insurgent attacks, the military is revamping its training programs to create some of the most realistic combat exercises ever for troops headed to battle.

At training bases across the USA, the Army and Marine Corps are teaching new troops the types of skills they might have gotten in the past only from combat or advanced training courses:

* The Army has begun using "live fire" drills at Fort Jackson, S.C., its largest basic training post, to teach recruits how to survive ambushes on convoys and to counterattack guerrilla fighters. In the new exercises, recruits ride in open-air, 5-ton trucks and fire live ammunition at pneumatic pop-up targets. In most basic training before now, troops shot only at stationary targets on a firing range. The Army will expand the drills to all five of its basic training bases by spring.

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* The Army has transformed Fort Polk, La., into a simulation of Iraq, converting 18 training sites there into replicas of Middle Eastern towns and villages. It has contracted with hundreds of Iraqi-Americans to portray insurgents, police and religious leaders in combat exercises. The role players are a mix of Arabic-speaking Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds from Houston, Detroit and Washington.

* The Marine Corps offers detailed instructions to all Marines heading to Iraq on how to recognize and thwart remotely detonated bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. They are trained in the use of electronic jammers to block insurgents' ability to explode the bombs with cellphones or garage-door openers.

* The Army has begun teaching recruits in basic training how to fire an M-16 rifle while wearing full body armor and how to shoot at moving targets from standing and kneeling positions.

The Army last year began training recruits for the dangers of traveling in convoys and fighting in cities. The new tactics, developed by studying the practices of Iraqi insurgents, have been prompted by the limited time many new troops spend in the Army and Marines before seeing combat. In some cases, Army soldiers are shipped overseas a few months after completing nine weeks of basic training.

Col. Kevin Shwedo, who monitors basic training trends from Fort Monroe, Va., said the Army is moving to fill gaps discovered from combat reports. "A lot of it has to do with what is going on in the theater (area of military operations) that is potentially neglected," he said. "We asked ourselves, 'Are we thoroughly preparing for that environment?' In many cases, the answer was no."

In basic training, all Army recruits carry their M-16s with them wherever they go, including the chow hall. They are issued body armor shortly after arriving and must wear it to build endurance.

The Army and Marines are also using timely intelligence to update training exercises. Brig. Gen. Michael Barbero, the commanding general at Fort Polk, said his staff recently modified an exercise using IEDs based on that day's intelligence reports from Iraq.

Among the examples of the new realism in training: At Fort Polk, rubber dog carcasses are positioned around the mock villages to simulate a common method insurgents use to hide bombs.

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Copyright 2005 USA TODAY. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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