Story by Cynthia McIntyre on 06/21/2019Whether a Soldier is in the Army Band or the infantry, they must be fit to fight. That means knowing not only combat skills, but also how to stay alive in a war zone. The 80th Training Command at Fort Hunter Liggett, through its Military Police Advanced Leader Course, puts these noncommissioned officer MPs through various combat scenarios, including how to detect and mitigate improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The class that went through the 2.5 mile counter-IED lane on May 18, 2019 experienced in-depth training from two Army veterans with direct experience in Afghanistan in detecting and destroying IEDs. Jacob Lucas, senior consultant and counter-IED analyst with Booz Allen Hamilton, was an Army combat engineer for eight years, with two tours in Afghanistan conducting route clearing operations. He demonstrated a variety of ways simple items such as depleted C batteries, thin copper wire, a gas can and buzzer timers can be used to create deadly explosives.
"We try to replicate the exact same enemy TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) that the enemy is using all over the world, so the Soldiers can see what it's like and know how to react to it," said Lucas. "We work with the Global Threat Mitigation Program. We get intel every month all open source, unclassified. They compile it and give us an intel brief every Monday. We formulate it into our training scenarios."
His assistant in training, Tiana Straub, was an explosive ordnance device (EOD) technician in the Army for eight years, and served one tour in Afghanistan. She wears a bracelet with the names of several members of her team who died when they encountered an IED.
"Engineers and EOD are doing this every day," said Lucas of the techniques he teaches. "Every Soldier no matter their MOS (military occupational specialty) is going to encounter an IED at some time in their career. We try to make the Soldier see what an IED looks like in place."
The first step in a combat patrol's mission is to gather intelligence, and that means engaging the locals who often know where IEDs are planted and who is making them. Part of the evaluation process for these students is to see how they elicit that information.
"They engage the civilian role player and tactically question them to figure what kind of stuff is going on," said Lucas. "Locals will give you the most information. Intel states one thing, but the guys that are living there, they know what's really going on. With a counter insurgency, one day they're your friend, the next day they're not. So you do everything you can to make sure they're your friend. They'll start to open up and talk to you."
Then they do site exploitation to acquire evidence of IED production.
"If I had found this (he holds up a row of batteries taped together) inside a house, it's for their IEDs," Lucas continued. "Site exploitation is to hone skills to collect evidence, which is fed to higher up, and it can start taking down cells and the guy who's calling the shots."
When the MPs finished their tactical questioning of the "villager," Lucas took them through a brief class on IEDs, using a white board and examples of homemade devices. He set up four different scenarios on the lane and told them, "An IED will always tell you it's there. You just gotta look for those indicators. You're gonna find them, or they're gonna find you." He held up a strand of angel hair wire which was nearly invisible in the tall grass, and he said that strand was thick enough to carry the minimal electrical charge generated by something like those weak C batteries needed to set off an IED.
In addition to evidence of dirt disturbance or obstacles that impede their vehicles, terrain with limited visibility or choke points that must be traveled through with no option to avoid them can also indicate possible IEDs, he said.
The class was divided into four squads which patrolled the lane in Humvees, with one Soldier manning the turret machine gun. The first squad elected to do a foot reconnaissance, and after a simulated IED went off they failed to move out of the kill zone where a secondary IED exploded. The second squad noticed a tree blocking the road and requested EOD support. Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Deiss, ALC instructor, denied it, which forced them to send three Soldiers on foot looking for the enemies. They made contact and while they engaged them in battle, a simulated IED was detonated behind them, and they fell back.
In the after action review (AAR), Deiss commended them for the dismounted reconnaissance but encouraged them to move more quickly out of the kill zone.
Straub earlier explained the enemy is always watching, and even farmers can be enemies. "When you deploy your commander will tell you never to be repetitive. If they know you always stop on the same hill to take a bathroom break, they might emplace something there. IEDs are so versatile they can change them to fit any scenario, which is why they're such a popular attack method against us."
Lucas said, "As the enemy evolves, so does the military."
Showing these Soldiers the ease at which they can be fooled by "an absence of the normal or presence of the abnormal," as Lucas put it, is how they are taught to protect themselves and their team. Setting up scenarios as realistically as possible and letting the Soldiers make mistakes is the best way to hone their survival skills.
"You learn from failure more than you do success," said Lucas. "We like to let them fail and then we AAR it after every engagement. We show them why the IED was emplaced there, and ask what the indicators were. By the end of the lane their confidence just builds higher and higher. They're taking this knowledge back to their Reserve stations and teaching their Soldiers."
As leaders, they will be examples for those who follow them. If they are successful, thanks to their training, they will bring everyone back home alive, and in one piece.