Tena Hester, a role player with Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center, sets off a simulated suicide bomb to help train the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Infantry Division, a Fort Campbell-based unit set for deployment to Afghanistan this fall. (Lauren Manary / American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 11:19 AM
Soldiers with Fort Campbell’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Infantry Division got a glimpse of possible warfare scenarios during situational training exercises at Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center on Monday.
The training exercises are part of a larger simulated warfare rotation held throughout the year out in “the box,” a wide swath of forested terrain utilized by the Army to host units and give them the most realistic possible training.
The JRTC is often one of the last stops before deployment — like in the case of the 3rd BCT of the 101st Airborne Division, which is scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan this fall.
Command Sgt. Maj. Al Lampkins, who oversees a field artillery battalion within the Fort Campbell-based BCT watched as his soldiers slowly approached the town of Marghoz — a training area made to look like a typical Middle Eastern village. Other soldiers within the BCT had just flown overhead in Apache helicopters on a reconnaissance
mission, gathering information for Lampkins’ troops. The soldiers had no idea this would be the site of a simulated suicide bomber scenario.
“It’s really helpful because the realization of the scenario,” Lampkins said. “It brings Afghanistan here to Fort Polk and it gives my soldiers who have never deployed a taste of what it may or could be like in Afghanistan under certain conditions.”
During the suicide bomber scenario the unit can decide to help civilian casualties or it can choose not to, instead favoring saving resources for its own. When DeRidder area resident and role player Tena Hester set off her simulated suicide vest in the Marghoz marketplace, others were “hurt” in the process. In a typical civilian casualty situation, soldiers will give some basic life-saving treatment to the wounded and call a local ambulance to provide further care.
The situational training exercise is just one scenario that the visiting unit could face while at Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center and abroad. The exercises are sophisticated — locals are paid to dress and act as role players in the scenario and explosions and fake blood are not uncommon. Role players adapt to scenarios as situations change and will be more welcoming to a unit that helps them during the casualty scenario.
Hester, who has worked as a role player for 11 years, said she values her job because of how much it helps soldiers.
“I’m very serious with it. It’s not fun, but I’ll do anything that will help these soldiers get training,” she said.
Observer-controllers supervise the exercises and give the rotational training unit a thumbs-up or down. Soldiers are supposed to use their U.S. Army training to appropriately react to the scenarios thrown at them by the JRTC, and observer-controllers assess how well the soldiers respond.
Exercises like these are a surprise for the unit and soldiers are faced with the kind of choices they will see overseas. Troops were also faced with an ambush situation later that day, which tested their ability to treat a wounded soldier and call in a helicopter for a medical evacuation.
Lampkins said he was confident about his troops and their future deployment
“We don’t know how many are supposed to deploy, but as of right now, my whole battalion is prepared, trained and ready to go.”
The rotation ends Aug. 5.