June 19, 2005
By Staff Sgt. A.J. Coyne
BLACKSTONE, Va. -- In an effort to hone their urban combat skills, hundreds of National Guard Soldiers deployed to the fictional “Transitional Islamic State of Marcalastan” during their annual training June 13-16.
Four units from the 29th Infantry Division Artillery - 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery; 1st Bn., 246th FA, 2nd Bn., 110th FA; and 3rd Bn., 111th Air Defense Artillery- conducted “Operation Marcalan Freedom” at Fort Pickett’s Military Operations in an Urbanized Terrain (MOUT) site.
Each day for four days, at least three batteries of Soldiers entered the city of “Hafin al Batin” one battery at a time, where they came under attack while making a scheduled fuel stop.
“This exercise tested our Soldiers’ ability to react,” said Col. Will O’Neill, commander of the Sandston, Va.-based Division Artillery. “It was a great exercise and we learned something new as each unit came through.”
Once inside, insurgents backing a leading national warlord attacked the Soldiers using assault rifles, sniper fire and improvised explosive devices (IED’s).
As part of their training, the Soldiers had to react to these situations and conduct urban movements, clear a building, and conduct casualty evacuations. They also had to try to rescue a hostage held by the insurgents, who were armed with assault weapons, grenade launchers, mortars and machine guns.
In addition, two division public affairs Soldiers portrayed civilian broadcasters who were embedded with the units.
As music blared from loudspeakers and observers watched from the roof of a “mosque,” the convoy of between four to six vehicles entered the town. The Soldiers knew the insurgents were somewhere in the city but they didn’t know where or when they would attack.
With their intimate knowledge of the city and their ability to blend into the population at large, the insurgents proved to be a tough opponent for the Soldiers.
Although the goal of the training was to enhance the capabilities of the Soldiers in the four units, the training was valuable for the enemy insurgents too. The opposing force was led by Maj. Jim Contreras, the DIVARTY intelligence officer, who spent a year planning the operation. The Soldiers who portrayed insurgents were all volunteers who trained four months for the scenario.
“This is more fun than being on the other side but it’s a lot of hard work too,” said Spc. Lance Horne, Jr., a Soldier with Headquarters Battery, DIVARTY. “There’s a lot of setup and planning involved but it’s really beneficial to us.”
While on the other side of the fight, the Soldiers from the Opposing Force learned valuable lessons that will help them in the future.
“Now we see just how easy it is to get killed,” said Sgt. Shannon Beasley, a Soldier with HHB, DIVARTY. “It’s very gratifying to know we’re helping other Soldiers. It’s great when units do a good job and kill me.”