Oklahoma National Guardsmen train for the unexpected

Tuesday, July 16th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The war on terrorism and security in the Middle East could be on the minds of many Oklahoma National Guardsmen.

Elements of the guard's 45th Infantry Brigade have been alerted for possible call-up. That made the summer's training exercise at Fort Polk in Louisiana all the more important. Our own Rick Wells and photojournalist Bobby Cox were on assignment with the 45th for the war games at the Joint Readiness Training Center.

Units of the 45th Infantry Brigade of the Oklahoma National Guard are engaged in a skirmish with the enemy. It's part of a massive training exercise, one of the largest ever for the Oklahoma National Guard. The Brigade plus Guard, Reserve, and active army units from 14 other states and the District of Columbia are at the JRTC, the Joint readiness Training Center at Fort Polk.

They are here for some of the toughest training they'll ever face. Tough, because those guys in the floppy hats are the opposing force, they are active Army infantry soldiers, from Fort Polk. They are the home team, this is their home field, and this is all they do. Brigadier General Tom Mancino, "It's the Super Bowl of training, you get to go head to head with the most dedicated and professional opposing force the army has." General Mancino from Broken Arrow is the 45th Brigade Commander.

Every exercise like this has a scenario or story line. In this one, the Brigade has deployed to the fictional island of Aragon in the Atlantic Ocean. The Republic of Cortina occupies the southwestern part of the island. Units from the neighboring republic of Atlantica have infiltrated Cortina to disrupt the government. The 45th Brigade is there to stabilize the situation.

As the exercise begins, Air Force C-130s ferry troops into the 130,000-acre training area known as "the box". They along with armor units from the 3rd Armored Car Regiment at Fort Carson, Colorado begin looking for elements of the opposing force. They find some; a small unit of opposing force soldiers is occupying the village of Huffton. Elements of the 1st 279 infantry, from Tulsa have the job of clearing them out. "The situation here is this, an opposing force has occupied the village, and our guys are coming up this road to get them out, that is what is about to happen."

Well, nothing ever seems to go quite as planned. A tank hits a mine and the road is blocked. Troops advance though the trees, as Kiowa helicopters buzz overhead trying to estimate enemy strength in the village. Finally the guard gets the upper hand, going from house to house. "Clear." Even out-house to out-house.

Sgt. Barret Miller: "We had to clear the city, there was some opposing force, is what they call op for. We had to clear those out. We've cleared the town, I don't think they expected us to do that." This was objective number one; the fighting will go on for about ten more days.

It's intensive training in small unit tactics and operations. General Mancino: "It places us in the highest level in readiness training for any future deployments." Those deployments, for some of these troops, could be just months away.