These roadside bombs weren’t much of a surprise.
A convoy of three Strykers from 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division rolled down the muddy roads of a Fort Lewis range Wednesday afternoon. A mock bomb exploded near the second vehicle. Soldiers discovered a copper wire leading to a house at the base of a hill. Gunners in the vehicles fired at the house with Squad Automatic Weapons while a patrol on the ground closed in and eventually stormed the building.
Then they’d regroup, reload their ammunition and repeat the scenario.
It doesn’t quite mimic what they’ll see in Iraq, where the brigade will deploy this fall, but Wednesday’s live-fire training was as real as some of the unit’s newest members have seen since joining 4th Brigade.
“We tell the guys, ‘Look, it’s not always going to be like this in Iraq,’” said Lt. Grant Carriker, a platoon leader with Alpha Battery of 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment. “Things are going to be faster, more hectic. You’ll have to think on the fly. But we’re laying the groundwork now.”
Carriker and others in the brigade have less time than other units to prepare. The Defense Department announced in March that 4th Brigade will deploy to Iraq this fall, about nine months ahead of schedule.
That means the unit is racing to train new arrivals, some of whom are fresh from basic and infantry training.
The brigade expects to receive about another 600 soldiers, most of whom are new to the Army, before it heads to western Louisiana for its last major training before deployment.
The 4-2 is expected to be one of the final combat brigades sent to Iraq; military trainers will soon replace combat forces under the withdrawal timetable the Obama administration proposed in February.
Going to a war zone early is getting to be a habit for this brigade. On its last deployment to Iraq, which lasted 15 months, its departure from Fort Lewis was moved up a month to April 2007 so it could be part of the surge of U.S. forces into Baghdad.
Carriker said having less preparation time means “some of the sexy stuff gets cut out,” like platoon-level exercises with role players acting as insurgents and civilians.
Eight soldiers in Carriker’s 2nd Platoon of about 30 people have no combat experience, a number that will almost certainly rise as more soldiers are added.
“It can be a steep learning curve,” said Carriker, who lives in Tacoma and is preparing for his second deployment, “and we have to drag them along with us sometime.”
Wednesday’s live-fire exercises were an opportunity for more seasoned soldiers to work alongside their junior counterparts.
One new arrival, Pvt. Donald Schlund of Nebraska, joined the unit Dec. 8. He said Army life has been a transition on several fronts: joining his unit, switching from artillery to infantry and then training for the Iraq deployment.
“This is the first time some of us have worked with Strykers,” said Schlund, 22.
“And I think we’re all picking it up pretty well.”
Scott Fontaine: 253-320-4758