Oklahoma's National Guard war games

Thursday, July 18th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Oklahoma's 45th Infantry Brigade spent most of the month of June at Fort Polk, Louisiana. This year's annual training, is perhaps the toughest they've ever faced.

News on Six reporter Rick Wells and photojournalist Bobby Cox were at Fort Polk for the War Games. In part two of their special assignment, we learn that training was made even tougher by the environment.

The 45th Infantry Brigade is at Fort Polk testing its mettle against one of the Army's best opposing force units. Sharpening its skills for the future. General Tony Mancino: "Last year we sent two companies to Bosnia, many of the same tactics and procedures they had to employ in Bosnia are what we will train on here at the Joint Readiness Training Center."

JRTC conducts ten of these exercises a year, on what is the most realistic training ground it can create. There are villages, with civilians hired to play villagers, farm animals like goats, even a gaggle of geese. These poor geese have been shot at so many times it doesn't seem to phase them. Dealing with all this provides our troops a level of training not possible anywhere else.

Soldiers on both sides, of course, are firing blanks, but to make this as realistic as possible the Army has created what amounts to a high tech game of laser-tag. Each soldier wears a MILES unit, that's multiple, integrated, laser engagement system. Each weapon fires blanks and a laser. Each soldier wears several laser sensors, when a sensor is hit the system beeps and he's a casualty, dead or wounded, determined by a card each carries in a sealed envelope. That system extends to the equipment too; helicopters, tanks and other vehicles can be damaged or destroyed by enemy fire.

Commanders must deal with lost personnel and equipment as they would on the real battlefield. This training is not just for the combat troops, support units are involved too. Miles away a small tent city has been constructed, the Logistical Support Area, contains the supply and transportation elements and a field hospital. Lt. Brian Jennings: "we support the brigade, by fixing the things that are broke." Lt Jennings is from Tulsa and is with the 1120th Maintenance Company.

Most of his troops are mechanics; today they're digging in like infantrymen. "We are getting ready for something to happen." In addition to the opposing force they face real life problems, like a family of woodpeckers in that tree, they can't be disturbed, so as preparation for war goes on around them the woodpeckers are protected spectators. Heat is "the" major real life issue.

The field hospital is prepared for simulated casualties, and for lots of dehydrated soldiers. Real victims of Fort Polk's sweltering heat. To protect its troops, the brigade spent thousands of dollars buying "Camelbacks", water carrying backpacks, one for each soldier. That's perhaps a first-aid first, there were others? The deployment to Fort Polk was the largest for the Oklahoma National Guard since the Korean War; the re-deployment home was the largest military barge operation in Oklahoma history.

General Mancino: "our soldiers really demonstrated their proficiency and their qualifications very well." And he believes they are ready for what comes next. What comes next could be some Middle Eastern deployments for some elements of the 45th later this year.

And by the way, this was a return to Fort Polk for Rick Wells. He took basic training there 36 years ago, and hadn't been back since. He says it hasn't changed all that much.