To prepare for the rigors of combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, East Africa and other conflict zones, the U.S. Special Forces visit the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, for several weeks of hyper-realistic training. Bryan William Jones paid a visit to see the training first-hand.
by BRYAN WILLIAM JONES
I was completely unprepared for the chest thumping BOOM! that came from up the road, next to the 3rd Special Forces Group convoy moving through Medina Wasl, the simulated Iraqi town at National Training Center. The falling debris and rising dust cloud were substantial. AK-47s chattered from nearby windows. As the U.S. soldiers established positions and returned fire with their M-4 carbines and mounted M-240 machine guns, the smell of gunpowder wafted through the air. Confusion reigned. My minders, Captain David Durante and Staff Sergeant Dennis Corey, provided a running commentary.
For this urban exercise, all the rounds being fired were blanks, but the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System — mil-grade laser tag — tracked virtual bullets. Observer-controllers were on the ground to assess the performance of participants and provide real-time feedback on the scenario. The participants knew it wasn’t real, but you wouldn’t have known it from the expressions on their faces.
Medina Wasl is one of approximately 15 simulated towns and villages built in the middle of a 1,000-square-mile patch of California desert near Death Valley. Each town is populated by actors portraying villagers and townsfolk with their own politics, loyalties, histories, grudges and goals. They have jobs, titles, family memberships and religious beliefs appropriate for the scenarios. Some individuals may play the role of insurgent financiers, some are bomb-makers, others are insurgent foot soldiers. Some individuals are just trying to live out their lives keeping shop or providing services.
There are also two mock television stations that mimic CNN and Al Jazeera, to provide training in media interaction. Social issues come into play. There are door-to-door operations, political negotiations with local mayors in addition to the “international media” roaming the battlefield.
Next up, the “god gun.”
(Photo: Bryan William Jones)
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