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White Sands Soldiers prepare for battle

Sep 3, 2009

By Drew Hamilton

White Sands Missile Range Soldiers are scaling up their training on nearby range land in preparation for deployment in the coming year at exercises held Aug. 17 through Sept. 2.

Soldiers from the 2nd Engineer Battalion spent time practicing mounted combat patrolling and vehicle gunnery on shared land on Fort Bliss's McGregor Range. The training event had the Soldiers driving through a route as part of a combat patrol searching for Improvised Explosive Devices. What made this exercise different from previous training missions was that the Soldiers would have to engage pop-up targets along the route, engaging the targets with live ammunition. Upon completing the route, individual squads could choose to do additional training in certain areas they needed practice in, such as dismounting and engaging targets or additional weapons training with the squad machine guns or other crew served weapons. "We give them the engagement area and let the squads decide what scenarios they want to run," said Battalion Operations Sgt. Master Sgt. Leroy Taylor. One of the key points that the Soldiers are focusing is teamwork. Working as a unit can enable the Soldiers to be more efficient and lethal in combat, so practicing skills like how a squad leader should direct his squad's fire and how a unit should fire and move is critical. "(This training) is important, we're getting ready to deploy and some of these guys are fresh out of basic so they need the training," said 2nd Lt. Darrel Jolly, a platoon leader with the 595th Sapper Company.

The site was chosen because its dirt and gravel roads and hilly rocky terrain offer a similar experience to Afghanistan. "Outside of Afghanistan itself, I can't think of an area that better represents the tough terrain of Afghanistan," said Maj. Tim Vail, the battalion's operations officer. Though the Battalion is expected to deploy to Iraq, they are training for operations in Afghanistan as well. "We're trying to stay flexible so that we can be ready to go either to Iraq or Afghanistan," Vail said.

The battalion could find itself deployed to either location, or even deployed to one and then moved to another as operations and battlefield conditions change. Part of the reason for this is the important role that combat engineers currently have in both countries. One of the battalion's primary missions is conducting route clearance operations; which includes checking convoy and patrol routes for IEDs, a major threat to Service members operating in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The exercise was held on Bureau of Land Management land designated for military use by Congress. The BLM manages the land for all uses that are not military and requires multiple uses of public land, so the Soldiers had to share the area with local civilians who have BLM leases to graze cattle in the area. "We'll clean up after ourselves. The last thing we want to do is negatively impact the cattle and the environment... We respect the entire community and its citizens and we feel like we understand how our operations impact them and we try to minimize that." Vail said. For safety reasons the area was closed off to the public during the actual live fire training. "There's no excuse in a training environment to put people at risk, and we're doing everything we can to keep everyone safe, including the civilians, cattle, Soldiers and community members. ," said Vail. Since the training conducted in the area proved so valuable to the Soldiers, the Battalion wants to ensure they are good stewards of the environment and maintain a good relationship with the surrounding community so future exercises can be conducted with minimal inconvenience. Currently Fort Bliss Range Control sends notifications via E-mail to county commissioners and all others on the notification list.

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