By Staff Sgt. Tony M. Lindback, Division West Public Affairs
FORT HOOD, Texas - Individual rifle reports and bursts of fire from crew-served weapons shattered the stillness of a Central Texas night on a live-fire convoy training range April 16.
What was going bump in the night on the range were California Army National Guard Soldiers with the personal security detail for the 224th Sustainment Brigade from Long Beach, Calif. The night live-fire exercise is one of the many tasks the PSD has to do, and do well, to be validated by Soldiers in First Army Division West's 120th Infantry Brigade before the unit deploys to Iraq.
Though handling a weapon is to a Soldier what swinging an axe is to a lumberjack, special concern and extreme attention to detail must be applied when wielding such lethal tools in the dark.
""What we're hoping to see is that the Soldiers understand that when they're doing a live-fire (exercise), safety is paramount," said Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm Stone, a trainer/mentor with 2-395th Training Support Battalion, 120th Infantry Brigade. "They need to engage the targets as they come up and they need to get a positive (identification). At night they're going to be using night-vision. The safety factor at night is going to be a lot higher than it is during the day."
T/Ms with 2-395th TSBn. apply a common Army training technique that minimizes risks in the training by first educating those being trained about the mission, then walking them through it step by step, and finally conducting the mission. This technique is commonly referred to as "crawl, walk, run."
During the sun-soaked hours of the day, Soldiers were briefed about the intent of the training. They were then told of the hazards on the range and performed pre-combat checks and pre-combat inspections. After ensuring their vehicles, personnel and equipment were ready to go, the Soldiers were given blank adaptors for their weapons and performed the mission firing only blank ammunition.
Under vigilant watch of the T/Ms in the backs of their vehicles, the Soldiers performing their mission and received instant feedback for any unsafe actions. After the mission, T/Ms revealed other critiques regarding the training during an after-action review.
With the blank-fire mission behind them, and armed with the lessons learned and live ammunition, it was time for the PSD to engage the targets on the range with more than sound and smoke.
Commanding General of Division West Maj. Gen. Charles A. Anderson, who states all Division West Soldiers are trainers, met the PSD on the range after the live-fire was over. Anderson spoke to the California National Guard Soldiers about the relevance of their training and the important mission they are training for. Having been back from deployment for less than one year himself, Anderson shared some of own experience to emphasize his points to the PSD.
After receiving pointers from Division West's most senior trainer, the "crawl" and "walk" stages of the training were over. All that was left was for the PSD and the T/Ms to prepare for the "run" and for the sun to retire.
"You could really see it in the faces, the attitudes and the motivation of the Soldiers once they moved from dry- and blank- to live-fire operations and the reality of the situation set in. They get a lot more motivated when they're firing live rounds," said Capt. Brian Hamilton, officer-in-charge for the training range from the 2-395th TSBn.
"This live-fire range gives them the chance to exercise all their capabilities and find out their shortcomings so they can work on it and become better as a unit."