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1st Brigade training up for deployment
Black Hawk helicopters descend on a fictitious city on Fort Stewart during a training exercise. - photo by Photo by Lauren Hunsberger
Taped on the handle of his M-4, Lt. Andrew Paul, platoon leader with Battery A, 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery, 1st Brigade, has the faces and names of five known enemy combatants. Shortly after sunrise, Paul leads his soldiers to a waiting Black Hawk helicopter and they embark on a mission to  locate and capture the insurgents.
Far below the rising aircraft, other 1st Brigade soldiers snake their armored convoys through thick vegetation, also headed toward the fictitious city where the five enemy combatants are thought to be hiding. Orchestrating the five-helicopter air assault with ground troops, commanders of the 1st Brigade put all their components together for their first, full-scale assault mission.
After months of practicing with smaller units, the brigade is in full force, training for its upcoming deployment, which is currently slated for early December.
“It’s our first time working together as a brigade and putting all the assets together,” Paul said. “It’s all building up to take us into Iraq.”

A new mission

Even the most seasoned soldiers still had a few new things to learn this time around as senior officials said their mission in Iraq has recently changed. Lt. Col. Joel Hamilton said while his artillery soldiers used to shoot heavy arms, they will now take a more supportive stance when they arrive overseas.
“We have to train for a different mission and the mission is to partner with the Iraqi security forces, which are the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army. But we also have to be prepared and train to defend ourselves and train them how to defend themselves and apply the rule of law,” Hamilton said. “And if they have to, apply deadly force because there is still a terrorist threat over there.”
Paul and his team got the chance to put this idea into practice. Once on the ground, the soldiers set up a checkpoint at the south end of the fictitious city and spread out to survey the tree line around it. Before long, however, the group of soldiers encountered a group of Iraqis.
After briefly detaining a few of the Iraqi forces and talking with their commander, Paul was able to negotiate a collaboration of efforts in keeping the looming assailants from escaping the city.
“For the last week and a half, we’ve been out here working with Iraqi contractors who are role players that play villagers and tribal and religious leaders,” Hamilton said of the importance of practicing authentic interactions.
He said communication is imperative to help troops cement stable working relationships with Iraqi forces.
After returning from field training, the troops will have about a month before they continue their training at the National Training Center in California in October.
“This is the biggest size exercise we do here at Fort Stewart,” Hamilton said. “It’s a great rehearsal for National Training Center.”

First time soldiers

Hamilton said this exercise is also important because many of the soldiers participating in the training don’t have experience in Iraq.
“About 50 percent of the battalion has never deployed to Iraq before, they don’t have that perspective yet,” he said.
PFC Jared Burchfield, 20, has never been to Iraq and was getting his first training aboard a Black Hawk. He said the exercise is both invaluable and exciting.
“I’m learning a lot,” Burchfield said. “This is the best part about it. It’s really intense, but we get to put on our gear and go out and shoot.” 

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