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Thursday, July 20, 2006

LETTERS FROM A SOLDIER #4 

LETTERS FROM A SOLDIER #4

The following is the fourth in a series of letters home from my nephew Keith. I am publishing them so that we may all have a better understanding of the young men and women who are placing themselves in harms way to protect us, and our way of life. They have been following him through his training, and will continue into his deployment. I do so with his permission, and the concurrence of his wife and son.

S/SGT Keith is an army veteran and civilian police officer who joined the active reserves after the September 11th attacks. He and ten members of his MP unit have been called up for deployment to Afghanistan to train new Afghani police officers. All eleven are either police or corrections officers. The unit is presently departing from a base in the Southwest, where they have been training with a Navy unit before shipping out. This letter will be the final correspondence detailing his training experiences. After a short leave, he will transit to Afghanistan for his deployment. There will be a gap in this series during his transition, but will continue after he is established at his assigned location. I am withholding his last name out of courtesy to his family and simply thank him for his service to our country.

Hello All, July 16, 2006

Well, the end of the training cycle has finally arrived. We concluded our training on Friday, July 14th and also found out that we are getting a week of leave prior to deployment. All in all I would say that it was a good day.

Our final training tasks were CQM, Close Quarters Marksmanship and Urban Operations. We had been told by others who had been through the training that it was enjoyable and that the instructors were professional, and they were not mistaken. The CQM training took place out at a range about 30 miles from where we are housed. There are two ways to get to the training area. One is to take the highways which is not the most direct route and can take you 45 minutes to an hour. The other way, the way we chose of course, was to take a tank trail that cuts through the desert and shortens the trip by about 15 minutes. A tank trail is nothing more that a 30 foot wide gravel road that is all chewed up by the tracks on the tanks. Now imagine riding down this trail at 45 mph in an 11 passenger Dodge van. The ride was bone jarring to say the least, but we did have fun with it.

When we arrived out at the training area on Day 1, we were given a brief class on marksmanship techniques that included standing, kneeling, and aggressing the target. (Walking towards it in other words.) These techniques are different from the normal qualification course where you shoot from either the foxhole or prone position. After the class it was time to do some shooting and it was fun. These instructors were able to put over 100 soldiers through the range in about 3 hours. This was quite different from the Rifle Qualification Range and 9MM Range that took all day long. The difference, I believe, being that those ranges were run by civilian contractors and the CQM range was run by Army personnel.

After the range we were given a class and demonstration of the Army’s method for room and building clearing. Then we were broken down into groups. Our Commander was able to talk to the instructors and have all of us put into a group of our own. Since our training began we have been split up and have not had the opportunity to train together. We were then released for the day and we took the tank trail back.

On Day 2 we hit the tank trail early in the morning and headed out to the range. The range area, which is located at the base of some mountains, consisted of a small village containing several small building and one large compound type building. The day started off with us practicing the room clearing techniques in “glass houses”. These are houses made of stakes and engineer tape that simulate rooms and doorways. We practiced in these for several hours before we moved to the actual “village”. We again practiced in the “village” before we were given blank ammunition. On this go around the “village” was full of role players who shot at us or just got in the way. The training went well and I enjoyed it very much, despite the 100 plus degree temperatures.

The next rotation was to develop a plan on our own and assault the compound building. We developed our plan and off we went down range to secure and search the compound. Before we even reached the compound we came under “mortar” attack and sniper fire. Our plan worked well and we didn’t sustain any “casualties” during the training. When we were done for the day our instructor was very complimentary of our performance. I was very pleased with our training because it also gave us the chance to grow as a team.

The next portion of our training was the Urban Operations task. This is another exercise that is meant to bring all of the previous training together into one large scale mission. That mission is to cordon off an entire village and conduct building searches looking for weapons, ammunition and HVTs, or High Value Targets. The mission requires a company sized element. One platoon sends out Observation Teams to collect intelligence. Then the rest of the platoon moves into position to secure the routes in and out of the village. The other platoons make up the search teams, the casualty collection point, and the detention area. I was assigned to one of the observation points. We positioned ourselves on a 20 foot high berm about 100 meters northeast of the “village” and watched for anything unusual. Then once the search teams moved in we had the best seats in the house to watch the show, and what a show it was. The “village” consisted of approximately 20 buildings, and over 50 role players. Anything you can think of that these role players could do to make things difficult on the troops, they did. It was a good 2 days of training and each operation into the village showed the improvement of the entire element.

At the end of the day we took part in our final AAR, or After Action Review. The Army has an AAR after every training exercise to discuss what happened and how the training could be better. Now in theory, this is a good concept, but after a long day in the hot sun all you want to do is take off the 50 pounds of gear and hit the showers. But we made it through the last one without any problems, even though the instructor leading the AAR broke the all-time HOOAH record.

Well it’s time to put this thing to rest. My next update won’t come until after I return from some leave. When I get back here we will have 7 days before we deploy to Afghanistan. I look forward to seeing all of you when I get home.

Love and miss you all
Keith

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