GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
First Sgt. Lamont Christian of the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team plays a member of the Kurdish Pesh Merga militia at the mock Iraqi village of Al Sharq at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif. The Army hopes to build a small city to train soldiers for firefights in dense urban areas.
Mock Iraqi city being built at military training center
FORT IRWIN, Calif. » A year from now, the Army hopes to unveil a small city to train soldiers for firefights like the one in densely urban Fallujah.
The National Training Center at Fort Irwin now has 12 mock Iraqi villages on more than 100,000 acres at the edge of Death Valley, said Special Forces Maj. John Clearwater. It uses shipping containers, railroad cars and storage sheds to replicate a town.
The villages, where more than 250 Iraqi expatriates live to add authenticity during a Schofield Barracks brigade's two-week training rotation, were constructed three months after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.
"What has been lacking," Clearwater said, "is something resembling Fallujah, with highways and large buildings such as universities, apartments, shopping centers, government buildings and homes.
"By next year we hope to have erected a 300-building city in an area about 15 by 30 miles."
Clearwater said the 12 villages can replicate the problems facing a company commander with about 120 soldiers. The urban complex is geared to the problems facing a brigade commander, who commands 4,500 to 5,000 soldiers.
That is one of the many changes before the National Training Center, established in 1981. During the Cold War, it played a crucial role in preparing the Army's tank force to meet the challenges of the Soviet army.
Brig. Gen. Robert Cone, who commands the National Training Center, located in the Mojave Desert 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles, said it is doing more than just assisting units to prepare for combat in Iraq. The center is also working on ways to neutralize increasingly sophisticated use of homemade bombs by insurgents, which cause the bulk of combat deaths and injuries in Iraq.
The Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, has reported that IEDs (improvised explosive devices) caused more than 38 percent of U.S. deaths in Iraq for every month since May 2005. In April they were responsible for the deaths of 43 U.S. troops, or 59.7 percent of those who died in Iraq that month.
In all, IEDs have been responsible for the deaths of 779 U.S. soldiers, or 32 percent of all fatalities in Iraq, from the start of military operations in March 2003 through April 30, the Brookings Institution reported.
"The area of IED is an area of technological innovation where the NTC is now playing a leading role," Cone wrote in a paper outlining changes at the National Training Center.
More than 5,000 soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team and several affiliated Schofield Barracks soldiers completed their final training here this week, including two weeks in "the box" -- an around-the-clock warfighting area.
Army leaders here say they will join the more than a third of the 132,500 soldiers now stationed in Iraq who have been through what the Army calls a graduate-level course in counterinsurgency.
The intense training continued even as the remote possibility was raised that the 3rd Brigade's deployment could be postponed. The Pentagon already has announced that 3,500 soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division will not deploy to Iraq this year.
However, the Pentagon said there are no immediate changes to sending the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., in early August. That unit would be followed by the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, N.C.; Schofield Barracks' 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry; and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Drum, N.Y.
The 3rd Brigade has scheduled a farewell deployment formation and ceremony July 7 at Schofield Barracks. Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, commander of the 25th Infantry Division, is to take charge of the Multinational Division North from Maj. Gen. Thomas Turner II and the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which assumed responsibility for the region in November.