The continued fighting in Iraq is what military commanders call an asymmetric battlefield. There are no front lines. U.S. troops can and have been attacked from all directions.
It’s a reality quite different from what America’s soldiers have traditionally been trained to expect, and it’s forcing the Army to revise its training from the bottom up.
At Fort Benning, Ga., and at other basic training posts around the country, the Army’s newest recruits are learning skills specifically needed to fight and survive in Iraq. Skills, says the commander of Fort Benning’s Basic Combat Training Brigade, that are ordinarily learned by front-line infantry soldiers, not the cooks, clerks, and mechanics who make up supporting elements.
“We are now training logistical soldiers in the combat skills where they can kill and destroy the enemy from when they first arrive in country,” said Col. William Gallagher.
“When soldiers arrive in Baghdad, they’re in a hostile environment from the first day,” Gallagher added. “So they have to be fully prepared, imbued with the warrior ethos that inspires them to never quit.”
Under the new guidelines:
- All basic trainees will spend more time firing a greater variety of weapons.
- They’ll also learn how to identify and react to the type of roadside bombs and other explosives often used by Iraqi insurgents.
- They’ll learn how to move and fight through urban areas.
- And they’ll be trained how to react if their convoy comes under attack.
Many of the skills have been taught informally by drill sergeants to new recruits for several months, but the Army is officially adding the additional training later this month.
With fresh troops rotating into Iraq, the Army is hoping to prevent “another Jessica Lynch” scenario in which support troops find themselves cut off and under attack.
NBC military analyst Rick Francona says troops newly deployed to Iraq face a steep learning curve and are particularly vulnerable until they become accustomed to their new surroundings.
“It’s extremely important to take lessons learned off the battlefields in Iraq and incorporate it into current training in the U.S.” said Francona, “And it has to be done quickly so it has some effect.”
Francona says the military has had formalized procedures for implementing lessons learned on battlefields for decades.
And the changes aren’t limited to the ground. At Fort Rucker, Ala., the Army trains 4,500 new helicopter pilots each year. Pilots are practicing new techniques that have been battle proven in Iraq.
Among the most significant changes is a shift in the way attack helicopter pilots fire their weapons. For years, Apache pilots have trained to fire their rockets and missiles from a stationary hover.
But Army officials say U.S. helicopters have proven vulnerable to a range of weapons, including small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, while hovering. So attack helicopter pilots at Fort Rucker are now perfecting a technique called “running fire,” in which they acquire targets and shoot on the move.
More subtle changes include teaching pilots to better recognize and avoid dangerous flight routes.
At all levels the Army hopes to build on experience gained in 10 months of fighting in Iraq to make sure new troops are fully prepared from the moment their boots touch Iraqi soil.