Charlie company commander Cpt. Dustin Knaus, with 2nd battalion, 7th infantry regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, sat in a humvee using a radio to coordinate with soldiers in the helicopter that flew overhead. His humvee sat behind a row of Bradleys and other combat vehicles, all awaiting directions to proceed.
"We have actual intelligence that Muhammad is in Waseria," Knaus said over the radio, referring to a fictitious city created for the 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s live fire exercise.
The line of vehicles rolled forward into the forest, gaining speed as it snaked through the underbrush.
The convoy spread out as it approached a small cluster of buildings where Muhammad, their illusive target, was hiding. Their mission: to capture or kill the target.
The vehicles moved in concert, closing in on their target.
Using live rounds, soldiers raided the buildings, shot at enemies trying to protect the target and looked for bits of intelligence left behind.
The extreme heat and quick pace mirrored conditions similar to those in Iraq, but the raid was part of the full-scale table 12, live-fire training exercise on Fort Stewart. For many of the soldiers, it was a new experience.
"This is our first battalion level training. We’ve been doing build-ups, and initially we train the individual soldier on basic marksman techniques and then we build up to train the fire teams, squads and platoons," Knaus said.
Up until the training session, the soldiers’ focus has been on individual training. So during their time in field, they are getting as much team experience as possible.
"My company has two days of day training and two days of night training. The first days are rehearsal days with blanks and the second are live," Knaus said.
The exercise in Waseria, however, was only one of three live fire exercises the soldiers participated in Monday.
Earlier that morning they visited a marketplace where, among Iraqi vegetable shops and butchers, a bomb exploded. Bloody men and women carrying babies ran to soldiers and begged for help. Soldiers acting as Iraqis approached the soldiers, "Mister, Mister, come help my brother."
The soldiers quickly responded to bomb victims and calmed upset civilians. In an attempt to prepare the soldiers, some of whom have never been to Iraq before, officers set up the marketplace to mimic real-life situations and conditions.
"We’re training for how things would really go in Iraq if there’s an explosion within a city, and how Iraqis will come up to us and ask us to help them," said Spc. Anthony Cew, who donned traditional Iraqi clothing and, having previously been to Iraq, was able to imitate real life situations.
"There are some things that we're not allowed to do in training for safety purposes, but it’s pretty much the same," he said "It’s interesting being on this side."
The third part of the training was preparation for going through safety checkpoints, which didn’t require any live shots, but is imperative training prior to their imminent deployment.
After all the exercises, commanders conducted a performance review, noting both successes and failures during the mission. The soldiers, tired and sweaty, listened carefully, keeping in mind that although Monday’s training was staged, someday the resistance, bullets and targets will be real.
"Where we were when we started coming out here, compared to where we are now, you guys are definitely developing your skills. I can see that," Knaus said.