Battling Bombs at Home
Facilities increase practice opportunities for troops and others to survive the most deadly weapon in war zones.
The large village at Camp Guernsey’s C-IED training lane will be used in the "walk" and "run" phases of education at the site. In addition to structures and roads, the area features a tunnel system. The site is designed to be location agnostic so troops can use it to prepare for deployments anywhere.
The U.S. Army National Guard is continuing down a path blazed by other institutions to create counter-improvised explosive device training lanes around the country. Citizen soldiers will use the locations to improve their tactics against the oft-fatal threats, and partners also can take advantage of the ranges to upgrade their skills. The goal is to increase the number of rehearsals warfighters participate in while requiring less time away from home and less money outlay for travel.
Work on the effort initially began in 2009 when the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) funded dozens of counter-IED (C-IED) Home Station Training Lanes across the country, including nine for the National Guard. These facilities are designed to prepare troops for C-IED actions in theater without requiring them to travel to one of the few previously established training sites. After that initial joint funding, the U.S. Army funded another nine lanes using Overseas Contingency Operations funds and with consultation from JIEDDO. Finally, state-level guard offices began self-developing six sites, sometimes with some monetary assistance from the bureau. The bureau also provided minimal funding for certain locations with Army funding.
Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Brown, ARNG, noncommissioned officer in charge of the National Guard Bureau’s Asymmetric Warfare Cell, explains that the internal strategy of his organization is to attempt to place C-IED training capabilities at each of the 28 locations where the guard’s brigade combat teams (BCTs) are located. Currently, 24 locations are funded.
Though the plan is to ensure the combat-heavy teams are close enough to receive their annual training at the facilities, the ranges also will benefit other nearby units, such as military police, who could be on the road in theater. In addition, law enforcement and homeland security personnel can use the locations for their training needs.
The guard’s duties to deploy outside the United States and to protect and serve citizens within U.S. borders have resulted in working relationships with many organizations around the country. Allowing anyone with access to the guard sites to use C-IED ranges emphasizes the organization’s focus on partnerships. Even groups such as the Boy Scouts could take advantage of the offering, according to Lt. Col. Trygve B. Trosper, ARNG, chief of the training support branch at the National Guard Bureau.
Despite the number of potential users, the guard expects little in the way of scheduling conflicts. Law enforcement and other groups who would employ the lanes usually want them during the week, while guardsmen generally need them on the weekends. In cases where conflicts do arise, priority will go to deploying units. When two units scheduled to deploy need the facility, officials believe that 99.9 percent of the time they will determine a co-use option and even ways to assist each other in training.
The guard’s goal for the training facilities is clear. “The bottom line up front: We’re trying to give soldiers more familiarity with IEDs,” Col. Trosper says. And with good reason—the weapons account for more than 70 percent of casualties in theater. Sgt. Brown states, “That’s just way too high. I have a personal interest in it. I’m watching my fellow soldiers being blown up. It’s just very bad, and we’re trying to do everything we can to not have anyone else go through that ever again.”
Though program officials are unable to put a number on the percent by which casualties may decrease because of the training, they want to bring the number to zero. Unfortunately, the enemy also has a vote in the process. Col. Trosper says that even as troops train, adversaries create more ways to cause problems. “It’s an evolving process,” he says.
Developers are taking experiences from soldiers who have been in theater and have experienced the latest in IED technology and how the enemy employs it. Through resources such as the Center for Army Lessons Learned and the Knowledge and Information Fusion Exchange, the military’s central repository for IED information and lessons learned, the guard will receive many of its tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) and the latest information about how to train and set up the lanes.
Though JIEDDO has completed its funding of the training facilities, it still plays an important part in their evolution. The organization has cells in theater that send back new information about IED occurrences. Each lane provides the capability to detect and identify various types of improvised explosives, and the guard uses the lessons learned to create updates. “We’re trying to get soldiers more training to save lives,” the colonel states.
The C-IED lanes are set up less to resemble any specific geographic area and more to help users sharpen their skills for any scenario. Sgt. Brown says, “We tend to call them nontheater specific.” They could be set up as mud huts, downtown urban areas or even the border areas of the United States. Such diversity is necessary because troops could deploy anywhere given changes in world situations.
“These types of ranges are designed to simulate the types of situations you would be in,” Sgt. Brown explains. For example, in a village, shooting at the first sight of a person is not always the right solution. Troops learn how to maneuver through populated locales to find IEDs and enemies. The purpose is to train troops in the TTPs of detecting the devices no matter the theater of operations.
Also, because the training lanes are set up in different places across the country, each will contain unique aspects including size and terrain. They all incorporate the same tasks, but they are built around the resources available in a particular location.
Many of the facilities are simple, with large, portable storage containers set up to represent buildings. Sgt. Brown explains that at the basic level, few technologies are incorporated into the construction of the lanes, though some installations have taken it upon themselves to add capabilities such as cameras and recording equipment. Leaders then can use those during after-action reviews with their troops.
The guard has fielded IED Effects Simulators to installations with the lanes as well as to several other locations. “Hopefully in the future they will have more capability to train on their own,” Sgt. Brown says. The simulators produce the effect of an IED exploding without risking harm to service members or equipment. Counter Radio-Controlled Electronic Warfare 2, or CREW 2, training simulators also have been fielded. They replicate field equipment that is used to jam signals that remotely detonate explosives.
Training offered at the lanes complements simultaneous efforts by the larger Army through which IED lessons are being institutionalized. Basic and other training, as well as courses required by the military branch, are pushing C-IED instruction out to students. In the future, more National Guard soldiers will be exposed to the lessons.
The lanes offer another benefit to guard members—more training with shorter deployments. Without these facilities, guard members generally receive C-IED training after reaching an active duty station post-mobilization but predeployment. Once at the mobilization site, troops are bombarded with a lot of training in a short amount of time. These additional rehearsals away from guardsmen’s home stations also mean more time apart from family and civilian lives. Col. Trosper explains that with the lanes, the guard is reducing the mobilization aspect of C-IED training and providing it closer to home. Focus has shifted to giving units training on a more regular basis and at a point prior to mobilization.
One of the most recent additions to the training lanes is Camp Guernsey, Wyoming, scheduled to open by the end of this month. Capt. Eric Will, ARNG, range officer for the location, says that when he was assigned to train units on mobilization at Fort Lewis, Washington, they almost unanimously requested additional IED training. “By all accounts it doesn’t seem like it’s a threat that’s going away anytime soon,” he states.
To keep training relevant, the guard plans its ranges with an eye to the future. With wartime operations winding down in Iraq, and possibly soon in Afghanistan, Capt. Will says, “We didn’t want to tailor our range to those theaters specifically.” Because ranges are designed to challenge units no matter where they deploy, the captain decided not to spend much money on appearances such as making structures look like Middle Eastern locations.
Another design decision involved streets in the village. Capt. Will opted to make sections too narrow for military vehicles, forcing troops to dismount. Other areas are wide enough for vehicles, allowing training for mounted operations. In addition to buildings that could represent places such as schools or prisons, caves and tunnels also are built into the facility. “We designed this to be multifunctional to meet many kinds of training you would want to conduct,” the captain explains. Overall, the training lane spans approximately 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) that encompass a walking path of more than 1,200 meters (.75 miles) and two villages made of 130 containers.
The facility is designed to fit a company-size element—typically comprising 100 soldiers—and to offer progressive training levels. It has a “crawl-walk-run” approach, as all the lanes should, according to guard officials. The first phase, or crawl, of Camp Guernsey’s offering has three parts. First, trainees enter a display building with various rooms, one of which contains bomb-making components. Soldiers can look into the rooms but not enter; the spaces are designed to show trainees typical hiding areas and what to look for when conducting a search. Hallways will be lined with instructional training posters to help troops with their tasks.
The second part of the first phase begins when troops exit the building and encounter a vehicle-borne IED. They will learn the typical hiding areas for explosives on a vehicle, so if they work with checkpoints or manage traffic stops in country, they understand where to look for weapons. In the third part, soldiers set off down the walking path on dismounted patrol to learn how IEDs are hidden on and off roads.
Mounted patrol marks the “walk” phase of the training. Troops travel a roadway and come to the site’s large village, which has 111 of the big moveable containers. Structures range from one to three stories, and the area has approximately 320 feet of subterranean tunnels. It also has a traffic circle and an overpass divided into four quadrants. The IEDs and pop-up targets represent enemy combatants and activate through motion sensors, so trainees have to be prepared for explosions and human threats.
Foreign-made vehicles also are included in the environment. These tend to be more narrow than U.S. cars and can fit better in tight streets and across bridges, taking advantage of the roads built too small for military vehicles. Troops must learn how to handle situations in which an enemy could maneuver more easily than they. After soldiers roll through the village, they must traverse another section of road laden with IEDs.
In the third, or run, phase soldiers begin training with live ammunition. Trainees can be mounted or dismounted on this portion of the C-IED lane. They will engage pop-up targets using live fire and will encounter simulated IEDs. This portion of training is reserved for the most advanced units.
“The big thing on the run phase is we’re not going to offer that to just anyone who wants to do it,” Capt. Will says. “They have to show they’re proficient in live fire so we don’t get anyone inadvertently [injured] or killed.” Cameras will be installed in the large village, and commanders can use the recordings of events to perform after-action reviews with their troops following the walk and run stages.
Capt. Will explains that Camp Guernsey is working to build the best range possible with the funding it has. The National Guard Bureau through the U.S. Army provided an initial $1.23 million and then an additional $300,000. The Wyoming Army National Guard used troop labor to reduce construction costs and provide training opportunities for selected units, such as the 1041st Engineer Company that helped dig the trench for the tunnel system and the 133rd Engineer Company that helped remove topsoil for the placement of the large village. By taking measures such as minimizing cosmetics, obtaining furniture from the U.S. Air Force after a barracks remodel, doing the roadwork and dirt work themselves and obtaining old conveyor belts from a nearby quarry, the camp saved enough money to install added features not found at all the lanes, such as a targeting system and the cameras and tunnels.
“We’ve been very frugal with the money we received, and that [enabled] us to build a larger, more complex lane,” Capt Will says. The site even saved an estimated $150,000 by obtaining a double-wide trailer for use during after-action reviews at no cost other than delivery when the Air Force had one to dispose of after putting up a new building.
Construction material choices also saved money. Camp Guernsey lacks much in the way of military operation on urban terrain (MOUT) facilities, which are costly to build. Using portable container structures enabled Camp Guernsey to build a much larger village at a fraction of the cost of a traditional MOUT site.
For the future, Camp Guernsey personnel would like to be able to tape the entire C-IED lane and put that into the simulation center. By doing so, units could still benefit from simulated training on the range when budgetary cuts occur or when groups are unable to afford ammunition, vehicles or other tools.
These choices are possible in part because when the National Guard took over funding for the projects, it eliminated many requirements that JIEDDO funding mandates. For example, JIEDDO demanded laying asphalt on portions of road, which Capt. Will says adds little value for the cost.