Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Schofield training soldiers for duty in Afghanistan

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

The roadside firefight was brief but intense — a training precursor to what Schofield Barracks soldiers could see in Afghanistan in five months.

Sgt. Nathan Hoffman of Bravo Company took part in the Army's Lightning Thrust Warrior training, adapted to mimic conditions in Afghanistan.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Two enemy snipers hid in a thicket just off the Dillingham Airfield runway, where C-130 transports were landing during the Lightning Thrust Warrior exercise. Sneaking up on a platoon providing perimeter security next to an old hangar, the snipers opened fire.

Down went two Bravo Company, 2nd Platoon soldiers in a blaze of blank gunfire, their gear registering laser hits. Around the other side of the building, the other sniper found his mark with three other soldiers.

"I was right here in the prone position. He just took his weapon and shot, and he got me," said Pfc. Leonardo Vera, 21, who might have suffered some ignominy, but nothing else.

"This environment, it's just training. In real life, it's real bullets, and you lose life," Vera said yesterday. "It's good training. You gotta know your job when you do the real thing."

One of the black-shirted "opposing force" snipers, Staff Sgt. Michael Spear, was in Afghanistan in June 2002 with the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C.

"This is pretty fast-paced, because they put so many people in a small area," Spear said. "In Afghanistan, it will be pot shots here and there. The enemy will be dispersed more — one or two in a town instead of 22 or 23 in a town."

But the 25th Infantry Division (Light) is practicing for engagements big, small and anything in between, and the exercise involving 3,500 soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team — scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in February, followed by the 3rd Brigade six months later — is a large-scale tune-up for combat duty.

The mission of the brigade combat teams will be to conduct combat patrols, protect coalition forces and provide humanitarian assistance.

A Black Hawk lands near Dillingham Airfield during the annual two-week exercise.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Starting last Friday and running through Sept. 18, Lightning Thrust Warrior integrates infantry and other ground units, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, artillery and convoys. This year, the annual exercise was altered to include Afghanistan-like situations.

"We've got (enemy) soldiers planted out here to harass them as they're coming in — just like Afghanistan," said Maj. Will Oxtoby, a 3rd Brigade fire support officer acting as an observer-controller.

Helicopter air assaults and artillery firing are scheduled next week on the Big Island. Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield, and Kahuku Training Area also are being used. The bulk of training is taking place on O'ahu.

Two 2nd Brigade battalions, 1-21 and 1-14, practiced yesterday seizing and securing an airport at Dillingham, where groups of 11 to 25 soldiers fanned out into the woods from Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters.

Smaller Kiowa Warriors buzzed overhead, and C-130s with troops and equipment landed, followed by the arrival of a convoy of Humvees and trucks at the airport, which is closed to civilian use for several days.

Pfc. Joseph Marcinko, 20, who lay on the side of a dirt road sighting down a belt-fed M-240 machine gun, said training with an opposing force gets the adrenaline going.

"It keeps you awake and alert, because you know somebody's out there," he said. "You're just waiting for them to make contact with you."

"We're getting ready to go into a hostile environment," Marcinko added, "and we're getting good training. If you don't take it seriously now, you won't take it seriously when you get there."

"We react, and that's what this (training) gives us a chance to do," said Spc. Jeff Bulington, 21.

For yesterday's exercise, there was limited sniping and mortar fire from the 3rd Brigade's "Team Houligan." For followup training in Kahuku, "there's going to be a definite enemy that needs to be taken care of," Oxtoby said. "They'll have a good fight there."

Spear, who along with fellow scout sniper Pfc. John Hubbart registered laser hits on the five soldiers, and earlier ambushed a six-man anti-tank weapons team, said his best advice after being in Afghanistan was to train "as if this is the real deal — because this is where you make your mistakes, so you don't make them in combat."

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.