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New-look Stryker team trains to help finish mission in Iraq


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POSTED: Monday, October 26, 2009

POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii » Col. Malcolm Frost, preparing for a summer deployment to Iraq, faces a daunting task after losing nearly half of his Stryker brigade to transfers and attrition.

Frost also realizes that his 2nd Stryker Warrior Brigade Combat Team could be making history when the U.S. draws down its force of more than 143,500 soldiers to a 50,000 “;noncombat”; force in August.

“;I see this as a tremendous honor,”; said Frost, 43, last week as he observed a platoon from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, practice entering a faux Iraqi town and clearing several of its structures on this vast training range on the Big Island.

“;It's finishing the mission and finishing the mission with honor,”; he said. “;We will leave it under Iraqi control where the government is sovereign and free. There is a good chance we will be a part of history.”;

By early summer Frost will deploy with 4,300 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division and 322 eight-wheeled Stryker combat vehicles that have been refitted and re-equipped from previous Iraqi deployments.

Although the 2nd Brigade has many combat veterans, Frost's team of leaders are new to their current jobs. Frost assumed command of the brigade in June.

               

     

 

WIDE-OPEN SPACES

        The Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island is the largest maneuver training area in the Pacific.
       

Owner: U.S. Army, but used by all services as well as FBI agents and local law enforcement officers

       

Location: 38 miles west of Hilo

       

Size: 134,000 acres

       

Maneuver training area: 43,148 acres (21 areas)

       

Airfield: Capable of handling one C-130 cargo plane

       

Billets: 1,680 beds (troops generally stay in the field)

       

Water: 26 truckloads (180,000 gallons) need to be hauled in every day

       

Source: U.S. Army

       

 

       

However, Frost went to Iraq in 2007 with Schofield Barracks' 3rd Bronco Brigade Combat Team and did one tour in Afghanistan.

Upward of 75 percent of the soldiers in his Stryker unit have served at least one combat tour in Iraq or Afghanistan.

After the 2nd Brigade returned from Iraq in February and March after 15 months, it lost 2,000 of its soldiers. Some chose to leave the military. Others sought reassignment and transfers or further Army schooling.

“;In one day 900 departed,”; Frost added.

All six battalion commanders in the 2nd Brigade are new, as are many of its key noncommissioned officers. But many have been under fire in other units.

That includes Maj. Jim Tuite, the executive officer of the 1st Battalion and a 1995 West Point graduate. Tuite served in Mosul, Iraq, with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in 2007.

Staff Sgt. Tom Cronin, 47, served with 2nd Stryker Brigade during its 2007-2009 deployment. He had two knee surgeries before he was allowed back into the Army just before the brigade left for Iraq.

The reason for his dedication?

“;My business is to fight,”; says Cronin.

Frost said preparations for his soldiers will include “;core war-fighting tactics to protect themselves and the Iraqi people.”;

There will also be an emphasis on tasks designed “;to assist and advise”; Iraqi security forces and the government. Nearly 50 high-level Army officers will be assigned to Frost's brigade to fill out stability training teams with missions to train local leaders.

“;In the end we will be ready for the whole spectrum that can be thrown at us an any given day.”;

Frost believes he will know the brigade's assigned operating area in northern Iraq by the time the brigade leaves for the National Training Center in California for a month beginning in February.

At the Mojave Desert training center, Frost hopes to employ scenarios based on the economics, ethnic composition and conditions of the towns and villages in his area of operation.

As he observed 2nd Platoon trying to master the techniques of clearing a building after a firefight, Frost asked one of the 25th Division's observer-trainers whether the platoon had taken the time to photograph and search an “;Iraqi insurgent”; killed during the fight.

“;They didn't,”; the trainer told Frost. He also noted that the “;insurgent”; played by a fellow 25th Division soldier had a homemade bomb hidden under his shirt.

“;That will go into the AAR,”; said Tuite, referring to the after-action report.

Frost said that each platoon will repeat the same exercise several times while training here.

“;Each time the circumstances will be a little different and difficult,”; he said. “;The soldiers will even have to do the same exercise at night.”;

From now until Thanksgiving, Stryker units will be rotated through Pohakuloa for two weeks of field training. In December the brigade will conduct a major computerized simulation exercise at Schofield.

Before they are shipped to California, the Strykers bound for Iraq will have undergone minor internal retrofits, including the installation of troop seats and ballistic floor plates and an alternator upgrade.

In Kuwait the vehicles will be equipped with slate armor to deflect rocket-propelled grenades so they detonate before penetrating the vehicle. Another improvement, known as the “;pope's glass,”; shields the vehicle commander when he pokes his head out of the top of the Stryker.