CAMP NEW YORK, Kuwait — An Army convoy snakes along a dusty desert road.
Suddenly, there's a flash and a bang. A hidden explosive knocks out a Humvee
and badly injures a soldier.
Iraq-bound 1st Infantry Division troops now training in Kuwait, the
scenario was fake.
Next time, all of them knew, it could be for real.
All week, troops at Camps New York and Udairi have been trekking to a remote
firing range for three days of convoy live-fire training. Special Forces and
Army Ranger veterans from the military contractor MPRI taught Big Red One
soldiers how to handle themselves if their convoy is ambushed, using lessons
learned by other units in Iraq.
"This is the last major training event these guys are going to receive before
the road march north," said Staff Sgt. James Gibson, 29, of Portland, Ore.,
master gunner for the 1st ID's Task Force 1-77. "Everything we've done in
Kuwait has built up to this right here."
The first two days at the range involved a combination of classroom work in
tents and outdoor drills, Gibson said, including close-quarters marksmanship,
shooting from a stationary vehicle and recovery of damaged vehicles while under
The last day was the soldiers' final test. Sixteen-vehicle convoys rolled
through a firing range, where they used live ammunition to knock out green
wooden pop-ups that simulated armed guerrillas while avoiding simulated
civilians and houses. The convoys rolled through five engagements, then were
hit by a mock explosive. The soldiers had to treat the "victims," call in a
medevac helicopter and tow away the vehicle.
"We really got a chance to work on some new teachings," said 1st Sgt. Mark
Oldroyd, 36, of Turtle Lake, Wis., the noncommissioned officer in charge of
Task Force 1-77's Company B.
Convoy live fire isn't a typical part of training, but 1st ID added a drill
into its "warfighter" training at the Grafenwöhr training area last fall.
Still, this was a first for many of the soldiers. Because the division has
been cut and pasted into task forces that are structured differently from their
brigades back home, most were working with people they didn't know well. It
took place in wide-open desert instead of narrow wooded lanes.
"It was on a much larger scale [than at Grafenwöhr], and a much more
target-rich environment," said Sgt. Richard Bazzell, 30, of Shreveport, La., a
soldier in Company C of Task Force 1-77.
Soldiers learned that wielding a rifle in the tight confines of a truck or
Humvee is difficult, even more so when the vehicle is moving.
"You learn what an unwieldy beast a convoy can be," said 2nd Lt. Lee Tate,
23, of Staunton, Va., also from Company C, Task Force 1-77. "You learn what
it's like to shoot at 35 mph. You can't hit much, but you can hope to suppress
[the attacker's gunfire]."
"I learned I wouldn't be a good gangster," Oldroyd joked later, "because I
can't do drive-by shootings."
Soldiers took the exercise with an extra dose of seriousness. This is the
last training before the division forms convoys for the trip to Iraq. Impatient
to get on with their yearlong mission, they are excited and a little
apprehensive about the trip.
"Finally, all the [training is] done. We can go up north," said Spc. Tyler
Smith, 21, of Snohomish, Wash., an infantryman serving in Task Force 1-77's
Company B. "If we're not taking it seriously by now, we're screwed."
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