The 7th Chemical Company of Fort Polk recently took part in a training exercise designed to provide the soldiers with the experience of a war scenario.
PEASON–Chaos is the weapon of choice for enemies who, in a heart beat, would wrench freedom away from us. Regaining control quickly after chaos rains down is the name of the game for U.S. soldiers fighting not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but anywhere an attack against the U.S. might take place.
The 7th Chemical Company of Fort Polk was on the receiving end of just the sort of chaos that can kill all this week as part of a training exercise designed to provide the soldiers with experience in fending off an attack, regaining security, evacuating wounded and casualties and recovering equipment.
"War is chaos," said a training evaluator after the simulated attack against the 7th Chemical Company Wednesday at Fort Polk's Peason training area.
"This is something you have to learn to deal with," said Capt. Anita Scattone, 83rd Chemical Battalion's battle captain and one of the creators of this particular training scenario.
In a real war zone, Scattone's role as battle commander would be to monitor the enemy and provide intelligence, direction and command to the various companies, platoons, units and squads who find themselves in her area, which could be hundreds of square miles. And all of those variables can change at a moment's notice, she said, depending on the enemy's movement. In a training scenario, Scattone and her soldiers perform the same duties, but with much less stress, of course. Scattone knows exactly what obstacles the 7th Chemical will have to overcome in order to successfully complete the challenge.
From her base of operations, a tent, Scattone directs the movements of the 7th Chemical Company, using an array of equipment, including laptops, which, along with stacks of papers and notebooks, litter the tables in the middle of the tent. Hanging from the tent's walls are maps of nearby locations, all decorated with push pins or stickers to indicate where action may be happening. A large flat screen t.v. dominates a corner. A generator roars just outside the tent and as rain begins to pelt down intermittently, as if uncertain of its commitment.
At around 2 p.m. a soldier enters the command tent to hand Scattone a message.
"They're leaving where they're at right now," she says, after reading the message from the 7th Chem sent using Force Battle Command Brigade and Below, or FBCB2, which is basically a GPS system that allows texting when distance prevents radio contact.
The 7th Chemical Company is moving a convoy of about 23 vehicles (two of the company's four platoons and the company's headquarters) from Forward Operating Base (FOB) Rosepine to a new location: a point further north than Scattone's location at the Peason training area.
"The threat is higher here," said Scattone, who'd earlier given the command to move. "We need more help in this region to control the enemy."
The soldiers of 7th Chemical, trained to detect biological agents like anthrax, usually spend their time collecting samples of dirt and water which they then take back to another unit to test. Equipped with lots of computers, the company isn't necessarily set up to handle an attack by the enemy.
But that doesn't mean an attack won't happen. Being prepared, and making sure his soldiers are prepared, is a duty that falls on the shoulders of the company commander, said Major Jack Morgan, Scattone's commanding officer, and also one of the ones who helped create the training scenario, along with the recently deployed 814th Engineers, who have real-life experience to draw on.
The company commander, said Morgan, divided a platoon of gun trucks among his chemical platoons to provide protection in the event of an attack. The 5-ton trucks—modified with M60 machine-gun mounts—populate the convoy, with one in the front, middle and rear. Each truck has a driver, assistant driver and a gunner who must stand in the back of each truck on the lookout for trouble. A ring mount allows the gunner to move 360 degrees.
By Wednesday, when they were asked to move their location, the 7th Chemical Company had been on their guard for more than three days. Few, if any, were operating on more than eight hours of sleep. Most, said one lieutenant after the event, had been catching a couple of hours every now and again.
"Last night they were attacked by civilians," Scattone says as she waits for news that the company is near their destination. Fired on by six or eight men in a white van, the soldiers were able to avoid injuries or casualties.
But that was just to make sure they were awake and paying attention, says Scattone, who'd arranged the little fire fight. The real test awaits them at Peason.
The plan is to blind side the convoy with a car bomb, followed quickly by another, smaller explosion, just as the convoy approaches. The explosion will take out the lead vehicles, then insurgents would attack the convoy with rifle fire and rocket propelled grenades from behind, all while heavy machine gun fire blasts the convoy from the roadside underbrush.
In all, the first two vehicles would be taken out and half the personnel, about 30 people, would be wounded or killed.
During the entire event, evaluators, riding along in the convoy with the soldiers, would alert the participants to when they'd been killed or wounded and also take note of their response to the chaos surrounding them.
"If a soldier's not doing the right thing, he's going to get wounded or killed," Scattone said. Soldiers are expected to react by either helping wounded buddies or fighting back.
As the convoy approaches the planned attack area, the oppositional force (OP-FOR) and contractors (who provide the pyrotechnic support) crouch low, waiting. Dark clouds threaten. The rain has made its final decision, and the clouds finally break open with a torrent punctuated by thunder and too-close-for-comfort lightening.
OP-FOR, positioned just over a ridge near a tower that seems to beg for a lightening strike, scraps their plans and head for cover.
The contractors, David Powers and Simon Castaneda of ESP, Inc. hang on, hunker down and wait. The convoy, just audible above the rain, makes its way toward the attack location. Powers watches from the bushes as the first vehicle passes and the second approaches the car loaded with its bomb.
"Now," he yells as he presses the detonation, but nothing happens. For a moment, it looks as if the rain has won, but then a loud explosion rocks the convoy, throwing a massive fire ball up into the tops of the trees. Machine gun fire seems to pop from every direction at once. The lead vehicle, a gun-truck, veers to the right of the roadway, only feet from where Powers and Castaneda are hiding out, and the gunner fires into the bushes, his face stoic. Haze, heavy with the smell of gun powder, fills the air.
When the gunfire ceases, the contractors come out of hiding to confer with Morgan. The soldiers, intent on securing the scene, continue to keep care for their wounded and begin to make arrangements for the arduous task of recovering the incapacitated vehicles.
On the ride back to the command tent, Morgan expressed confidence that the soldiers had learned valuable lessons about how to regain control over chaos and complete the mission. In the end, it is that skill, taught here at Fort Polk by a variety of soldiers and locals alike, that is what keeps this nation free.