GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Schofield Barracks soldiers from Delta Company apprehended a suspected insurgent yesterday believed to have been building homemade bombs in the mock Iraqi village of Al Sharq at the National Training Center in the Mojave Desert.
War games teach first lesson on Iraq
Fellow soldiers from Schofield help train by playing Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish militia
FORT IRWIN, Calif. » Some of the 5,000 Schofield Barracks soldiers here are playing bit roles to train their fellow troops for an Iraqi combat tour starting in July.
More than 100 of them are playing roles such as Iraqi army soldiers and Kurdish militia. They will not be deployed to Iraq with the others, but their job is equally important, military officials said.
First Sgt. Lamont Christian is one of 29 troopers from Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, who are portraying Kurdish militia during the two-week exercise, which ends tomorrow.
Dressed in menacing black battle dress, Christian said "the idea is to portray the militia as strong, confident, battle-hardened warriors" living in the mock Iraqi village of Al Sharq.
This training deployment for the 25th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team is the last step before the unit leaves for Iraq. The unit served in Afghanistan in 2004 and lost eight Tropic Lightning soldiers there.
The soldiers are expected to leave the National Training Center's war games area -- known as "the box" and about the size of Rhode Island -- tomorrow. They are expected to spend next week cleaning their equipment and will either return to Schofield Barracks or go on their last leave. All of the soldiers are expected home by Memorial Day.
The mock village -- one of 12 established in a 15-by-30-mile corridor in the National Training Center -- gives Col. Patrick Stapole, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, one of his major challenges.
Located at the farthest eastern end of "the box," the village was never considered friendly to coalition forces during training because of the makeup of its population. Delta Company soldiers were constantly heckled by villagers, many of them Iraqi expatriates, and attacked daily by insurgents. There were even assassinations of key village leaders or their family members and the constant threat of homemade and roadside bombs and of suicide bombers.
Lt. Col. Drew Meyerowich, who assumed command of the 800-member 2nd Battalion in June after it returned from Afghanistan, said training in "the box" is helpful in preparing his young soldiers for combat duty in Iraq.
He said his priority is getting the soldiers to understand the mind-set of the Iraqi people.
"It is not a Western culture. ... If you can't understand what the Iraqi people want, if you can't understand your responsibility to the Iraqi people ... to help them build up to the strength, we can leave.
"A lot of these young kids have to understand that culture to make long-term effects on the whole country."
Star-Bulletin reporter Gregg Kakesako is on assignment in Fort Irwin, Calif., where 5,000 troops from Hawaii's 25th Infantry Division are training before July deployment to Iraq.