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Harvey 'feels commitment' of Soldiers, sees basic training changes

By Staff Sgt. Carmen Burgess
Army News Service

Photo by Staff Sgt. Carmen L. Burgess

Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, at Fort Jackson, S.C., search a van for simulated explosive devices while Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey observes April 7.

During one of his latest trips outside of the Washington beltway, Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey toured two Army installations best known for their training of the next generation of Soldiers.

The secretary spent April 7-8 visiting units at Fort Jackson, S.C., and Fort Benning, Ga., to see how troops are being introduced to contemporary operating environments.

The Army’s top executive was shown how today’s initial entry training, versus that of a few years ago, focuses on introducing Soldiers to realistic scenarios that could be encountered while deployed in areas like Iraq and Afghanistan. Troops are drilled on manning checkpoints, searching vehicles for explosives, guarding detainees and clearing rooms.

“The relevance is important for what’s going on over in Iraq,” Brig. Gen. Abraham Turner, Fort Jackson commanding general, told Harvey as he observed 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, Soldiers. “This is tough training.”

The mock villages are complete with Arabic writing on signs and the sides of buildings in addition to the sound of prayers being played over loud speakers.

“This is excellent because it’s real training for when we end up in Iraq,” said Pvt. Charles Morgan, who was just completing his third week of training. “If we had more time, it would be great, even if it would make (basic combat training) longer.”

Focus has also been put on training Soldiers to become more aware of their surroundings and better able to identify improvised explosive devices, which have accounted for significant injuries in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“We want our Soldiers to be unconsciously competent,” said Lt. Col. Mel Hull, as he described the training they are giving new troops on being environmentally cognizant. He told the secretary that things in the Soldier’s barracks are changed on a daily basis to test their memory and teach them to be aware of objects or people who are out of place.

In addition, Fort Jackson’s 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, is piloting video-game software that mimics patrol scenarios in urban environments. Soldiers hone their situational awareness through computer-generated simulators that teach them the importance of accurately reporting details back to commanders.

Fort Benning’s trainees are also getting a dose of realistic training from their officers and drill sergeants who have had first-hand experience in combat zones.

Capt. Jonathan Westbrook, 1st Battalion, 329th Infantry Battalion, is using his deployment in Afghanistan as a reference point for instruction.
“We are focusing a lot on IEDs and what they look like,” he said about improvised explosive devices. “We have mock IEDs on the side of the road during ruck marches to see if Soldiers will identify them and report accordingly.”

The secretary observed Westbrook’s troops practicing to clear rooms in four-person teams. Over and over again, the noncommissioned officer in charge had troops repeat the drills to instill confidence and make their actions become second nature.

“The training is pretty challenging,” Pvt. Windrell Hayes told Harvey. Although he is a former linebacker for the University of Southern California and accustomed to tough physical training, he readily admits that the military operations in urban terrain training is the most challenging yet.

With each group of trainees with whom the secretary interacted, he expressed his appreciation for their dedication and hard work.
“I feel your commitment,” he said. “The nation has entrusted Soldiers with the obligation of bringing peace and democracy to other countries. Don’t forget the importance of your mission and what it is all about.”