25th Infantry troops head to California to prep for Iraq
More than 5,000 soldiers, the majority of them from the 25th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, will spend nearly a month at an Army desert combat training facility in California to get ready for a year of combat duty in Iraq.
Maj. Andrew Preston, executive officer for the 3rd Brigade, in a telephone interview from the National Training Center at Fort Irwin Thursday, described the deployment as "the biggest training event in preparation for this summer's mission."
The brigade, commanded by Col. Patrick Stackpole, began leaving for the 1,000-square-mile National Training Center this week. The center is about 37 miles northeast of Barstow in the Mojave Desert, midway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
The 3rd Brigade completed a year of combat duty in Afghanistan last year. There are about 3,000 soldiers from the 3rd Brigade at Schofield Barracks on the training mission.
They will be accompanied by 480 soldiers from the 25th Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which will play the role of insurgent Iraqi forces during the month-long exercise.
An additional 1,000 pilots from the 25th Division's Combat Aviation Brigade along with 60 Black Hawk, CH-47 Chinook and UH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters from Wheeler Army Air Field also will participate in the training.
Preston, who went with the 3rd Brigade to Afghanistan in 2004, views the month-long exercise "as an opportunity to get better in everything we do and to make sure every soldier is familiar with their leaders and their equipment.
"There is a very large number of combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan" in his brigade, said Preston, adding that this time, emphasis will be on convoy operations, civil military operations and basic soldier skills.
The National Training Center opened in 1981 and was designed for combat tank battles against Soviet bloc countries. Two years ago the training was refocused to counterinsurgency training. There, the Army has created 12 Iraqi cities to prepare soldiers for urban combat and close-quarters house-to-house battles. These "cities" have mosques, city halls, hospitals, jails and dwellings occupied by Iraqi Americans -- residents who come primarily from San Diego, Salt Lake City and Detroit. The role players are used to create "cultural authenticity" in the towns.
The center also has developed a program to help soldiers with the biggest problem in Iraq: improvised explosive devices, which are responsible for the majority of combat deaths and casualties in Iraq.
In 2004 more than 9,000 soldiers from two of Schofield Barracks' combat brigades were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the second major deployment for the 65-year-old division since the Vietnam War. In 1994 the Army sent two brigades to Haiti as part of the Army's peacekeeping operations.
Thirteen 25th Division soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team were killed during the Iraqi deployment. In Afghanistan, 15 soldiers from the 25th Division's 3rd Brigade were combat casualties from January 2004 through last June.