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 - 2nd Armored Division Sunday Morning, December...
2nd Armored Division Sunday Morning, December 6,19» «#* 7 TV. " 7? «' '£ *.4 ices il By JAY B.LEWIS MOJAVE DESERT, Calif. (UPI) - If it's a small war, the paratroopers can handle it. If it's a real nightmare — like the Soviets crushing Europe, it immediately sucks in the 2nd Armored Division from Texas, which is practicing for the Holocaust in the desert hills of Southern California. Based at Fort Irwin — a tiny outpost an hour's drive from Barstow, Calif., the newly opened National Training Center cranks. 2,500 soldiers of the^ U.S. Army through a high-tech mockup of a real live war, ranging over an area the size of Rhode Island. "One thing we are not is the Army's desert warfare school," stresses Fort Irwin spokesman Maj. Michael Williams, a tall-armor officer with a volume on Aikido stuffed between field manuals in his office bookcase. "The scenarios are based on a European environment," he says. "But it is a desert, and people do have to acclimate." The center has two battalions, about 1,000 troopers each, who drive Soviet-style equipment and train to Warsaw pact manuals, and whose job is to get out in the desert and take on the visitors with laser-tipped guns that give an eerily close approximation of killing and being killed in what could be the world's largest and grimmest video game. The laser gun system (called MILES) is one of two electronic marvels that bring the Army out here. MILES consists of laser projectors on each weapon that shoot "eye-safe" beams at the target, a soldier or vehicle carrying a sensor that tells the victim he's dead or wounded The other half is a huge target range where 2,000 men at a time can fire their whole load — screaming rockets, darting tracers, thundering artillery — at an advancing army of pop-up targets designed" by SAAB of Sweden. The cost of all this? About S300 million to start up. S100 million a year to run. It's a heavy investment for an Army whose resources are already taxed by a heavy maintenance backlog and rising costs for feeding, clothing and housing soldiers. The benefits? Depends on who you ask, It's possible to train individual .soldiers just jabout_. ajijnA'here.^Flor tank and artillery crews, you . need ranges several miles long, For tank companies, which are down near the bottom of the chain, you need an area like Fort Hood in Central Texas, up until now the Army's largest post. But to work out a battalion, considered the smallest unit with any hope of surviving on its own in a European battle, takes a staggering amount of space. And the 1,000-square-mile Fort Irwin has plenty of that, if very little else. The main post is small and bleak, looking like Fort Apache with utility poles. The training area stretches north and east to Death Valley. "This is one of the few places where you can see your whole battalion," said Col. Philip Mallory of Austin, Texas, who commands the 2nd Armored Division's 1st Brigade, during a night's break in the action at his camouflaged command post. "You can see each company and fine-tune it," he explains, inviting a vision of vast distance with a wide sweep of the hand. "If it's a beautiful thing, you can see the beauty. If it's a wart, it really sticksout." There were a few warts. The brigade had to draw tanks and vehicles from the California National Guard — elderly M-48 tanks, gas- driven tracks and jeeps with as much as 300,000 miles on them. On the live fire range, a torrential rain washed out many of the targets. MILES equipment was up to the dust, but there were breakdowns. Direly needed 50,000-gallon water trailers had to be brought in from Colorado. But Mallory's brigade was out here, in part, to shake down the Fort Irwin operation. The brigade will stay out more than a month, and starting in January, brigade-sized units will run through a regular two-week schedule of training. Mallory's unit flew from Fort Hood in mid-October in planes from the Air Force, on a training maneuver of its own, then took its equipment out of mothballs as it would in Europe, and • '•• !. ". ••''• '• . /!!.',.= . . ,/ .set off to the.desert. The ordeal would last until December,- simulating every kind of shrieking .high- explosive horror from a European Apocalypse, coupled with all the grinding hassles of desert warfare! And then some. The EPA, for example, requires a "porta-potty" for. every 75 people. The contract for that is said to run into - six figures. So the desert, a field of iron ore and granite covered with dust so fine it leaves a five-inch crater when you spit in it, is dotted with somber little presued- fiberglass privies. The first thing that hits you in the desert is a stunning dose of agoraphobia, the sensation of being swallowed by distance. There's nearly a mile's difference between the lowest and highest altitude on post, so the view from practically anywhere is of a long downhill stretch, then a foreshortened rise up the next rocky hill. But the stretch can be 50 miles across, with the view so totally unobstructed that the hills look nearby, so what looks like a 10-minute drive may wind up taking half a day. What you feel constantly is a certain tingling impatience when on the move, and a reluctance to start again when at rest. "The distances are frustrating," said 2nd Lt. Mike Henry, a dust-caked tank platoon leader from Omaha, from the deck of his M-48 backed into a hillside overlooking a 15-mile-wide valley. "You can see them coming in mass well before they're close enough to shoot at. You have to learn to wait." And you have to move a lot. The simplest shifts in the perimeter eat up hours of driving time. "And constant use of vehicles over rough terrain gives gobs of problems," Henrvsaid. For the humans, there's fatigue. Col. Mallory said his brigade had moved, set up, moved again for 48 hours on two- or three-hour catnaps. That effectively denies soldiers the renewing spell of rest that comes at the end of a full night's sleep, and the effect is 'Train hard, fight easy 19 By JAY B. LEWIS FORT IRWIN, Calif. (UPI) — The two battalions posted at this Mojave Desert training center are likely the best trained in the U.S. Army, because of their experience as soldiers in the Soviet Army. Next best are (he U.S. Army units that fight them. Odd as that may sound, it isn't the oddest thing about the newly opened 1,000-square-mile National Training Center, where brigade-sized chunks of the Army practice for war in Europe in some of the dustiest, most desolate terrain in the country. Beside maneuver space (Fort Irwin is the size of Rhode Island) the training center offers two main attractions: a huge live-fire range, where up to 900 pop-up targets simulate an attacking regiment; and the OPFOR - Opposing Force — which is two battalions trained and equipped to simulate a Warsaw Pact rifle regiment, providing visiting units with a real live enemy to work out on. And it's a workout that really changes the people who go through it. Aside from the uncomfortable authenticity of being shot at with laser weapons that tell you when you're dead, and the thundering mad-minute assault on the live fire range, the desert itself forces troopers to survive, taxing men and machines alike. "We're learning to survive out here," says Capt. Wally Parker, commanding the signal company of a task force from the 2nd Armored Div. from Fort Hood, Texas. "We don't have the convenience of going back to garrison to pick up something we forgot." Parker's outfit spent more than a month in the desert, shaking down the Fort Irwin center one last time before regular two- week cycles of troops start through in January. His job was to keep communications open for tanks and troops scattered for miles across the rocky hills, which were adversaries in themselves. "The mineral content here puts out a lot of static, so we're working out some grounding techniques," he explains, "like burying the rods horizontally and keeping them soaked with salt water." Where do you get salt water in the Moja\e Desert? Easy— urine. Periodically throughout the exercise, 2nd Armored Div. ran across the OPFOR, a mockup outfit spawned at Fort Hood and transplanted to Irwin. OPFOR is laced with ironies. For one thing, it's supposed to pretend it's the Soviet Army: it trains to Warsaw Pact manuals, drives Soviet equipment — purchased, strong rumor has it but no one will admit, from Israel — or mockups of it, and is fitting out in uniforms with Soviet bloc markings. cumulative. , For the machines, the distances and the choking dust are natural allies against them/ "The dust screws up the vehicles big time," said PFC Michael Luklanchuk of Scranton, Pa., as he stood, by his broken-down command vehicle, a square armored box about the size of a custom van, resting on steel tracks. "It gets into everything — fuel, air filters, everything — and it messes up' traction," he said. "We've had a lot of breakdowns because these vehicles are all old gassers. We don't have this problem with diesels." Next to distance, that dust is the most palpable reality about the desert. Walk across it, and it sucks at your boots like mud, turning a spirited gait into a grim trudge in a few paces. It's about the color and consistency of whole-wheat flour, and it coats the face in a hard little mask,-giving a whole new meaning to the term "doughboy." With water at a premium — pumped from Fort Irwin's supply and hauled out in trailers — and with no effective way to heat it without blowing cover, the troopers shower under perforated bags or sponge down from their helmets. A month of that invites a grunginess without the air of adventure one encounters on, say, a weekend hunting trip. Second Armored Div. soldiers, through either training or inclination, affect what the Army used to call a "high state of police" with hair properly short and uniforms properly worn. So as'you walk up to young troopers — such as Luklanchuk and his partner, PFC Michael Phelps of Sandwich, 111. — you're likely as not greeted by a touching burst of fussiness, raking fingers through matted hair, wiping at little clots of dust that gather in the corners of the mouth and eyes. That continues until they think they are presentable. The uniforms, of course, are always squared away. "You have to work at it," said PheJps. "It's really hard to get up and shower in the open when it's cold as hell. But you can't just let yourself go." Then there's the other problem of, desert operations. Loneliness starts as soon as you realize where you are, and how far from anywhere else. For troopers with families, and that's' about half of them, the normal funk of separation from spouses and children comes quickly to the point of heartache. "It gets lonely out here, not seeing my wife and family," says Phelps, who has two children. The 2nd Armored Div. commander, lanky, weathered Maj. Gen. Richard Prillaman, admits to something of an obsession with hard, intense training; training that tests spiritual as well as physical and material resources. Early this year, Prillaman announced the whole division — troopers, dentists, cooks and all — would be out in the field for long stretches. His announcement included an apology to wives and husbands, arid an explanation that he was doing what he could to up their chances of surviving any nightmares that might be ahead. Whatever happens in the war-in-Europe scenario happens to Prillaman's division first. The division shares Fort Hood, which spreads.out across a caliche and scrub cedar plain in Central Texas, with the famed First Cavalry Div., all under. Ill Corps headquarters/ ':; • Only two of the division's three brigades are stationed there, though. The third is in a colony known as "Division Forward" at Garlstadt in northern West Germany. So if the Russians ever come across the wall, the division is in "deep gumbo" from day one. "If we were going to war late, we'd have the leisure to do some other thing," says Prillaman, a lanky, weathered veteran of 31 years' service. "But we'll go to war early, so we have to be ready now." Being "ready now" implies more than it says. This year, for example, the division conducted huge exercises until the money ran out, thenjtood down for housekeeping; for a couple of 'months. "We were reading tea leaves, and we made,a bad guess," he.said. "We can sit back and wait, but we would wind up with an untrained division." And that, Prillamari says, - is tantamount- to a death sentence. ".The scenario the soldiers at Hood and Garlstadt face, basically, is this: —The Soviet Army crosses the border behind a -'death or .madness" artillery barrage and, war planners are convinced, a cloud of poison gas and bacterial weapons. The horizon lights up with flares; the teletypes go crazy; there is screaming and confusion. —Division Forward and the British I Corps, with sirens wailing in the background, dash for preplanned positions to try to stop — not slow, but stop — the advance short of the Rhine. Their families will be behind them, between the front line and the river. —Prillaman gets a call at Fort Hood. An advance battalion flies to Germany right then. Depending on aircraft allocations — hauling munitions, evacuating dependents, carrying troops — the rest of the division moves out, warms up stocks in Germany, and piunges into the fighting. —The division's heavy equipment is taken to Beaumont, Texas, and shipped to Germany. At this point, the division is into it up to its neck. We're talking in terms of days, here. This prospect leaves no time for trial and error. The learning curve, says Prillaman, is almost vertical. The lingering vision of his four years in combat in Korea and Vietnam, he says, makes the importance of training starkly clear. Would you like to know where you're going and how to get there? The following merchants have the new ° updated 1981-82 Gciveston City, Texas City, LaMarque City, & Galveston County Map. This is a large 2 X 3 ft. map in color with a current street index. LITTLE CHIEF MINIT MARKETS- 1.) 1822 6th St. N. r Texas City 2.) 2311 25th Ave. N., Texas City 3.) 123021st. St. N., Texas City 4.) 1131 9th St. N.Texas City 5.) 602 Cedar Dr., Texas City 6.) 2502 Palmer Hwy., Texas City 7.) 8150 Palmer Hwy., Texas City 8.) 1813 E. Main St., League City 9.) 1700 W. South St., Alvin 10.) 305 W. House St., Alvin 11.) 4210 41 st. St., Dickinson 12.) 5319 Hwy. 517, Dickinson MOORE'S TAXI CO. - 945-2323, Texas City ISLAND TRANSMISSIONS- 4601 Broadway, Galveston HADLEY & SON'S WRECKER SERVICE- 935 6877, LaMarque BOULEVARD MOTEL- 3202 Boulevard, Galveston WAREHOUSE TIRE DISTRIBUTORS- B» Texas Ave., TexasGly; 5019 Broadway, Gdveslon LEE'S GALLERY— 2120 Post Office, Galveston TREASURE ISLAND TROPHIES & ENGRAVING- 762-4888, Galveston THOMAS-GRAGE TRANSPORT, INC.- 762 2207, Galveslon The Fort Irwiriexercui* & part of 1 Prillaman's '^collective .training" 'philosophy, which 1 tries to move larger formations .through their paces whenever possible, r ' ;; . .^v /'There's this mindsetthat says, if you have well trained., individuals a'hd squads, then you have good divisions and armies," Prillaman says. "I don't ' believe that. , "There are any number of examples of a modestly trained force winning under a bright commander, but no examples of a well-trained force winning under' a commander 'who's a dumb-butt. You have to let your commanders see what they can do. Otherwise it's like training guards and tackles separately and not putting them together until game day." But to train commanders you have to give them soldiers to lead, and enough . space to lead them somewhere. The British do it on a Fort Irwin-sized range in Canada, where the West German army also leases 180,000 acres and flies in 16 battalions a year for a. month's training. The U.S. Army got around to establishing such a training center in October 1980, when Fort Irwin was assumed from the Gufrd California National and brought up to ; Formal dedication was last October,, in ceremonies that took place •even as 2nd Armored";Div. advanced parties settled in. -;' Fort Irwin itself has close links to Fort Hood, "its commander, :Brig. Gen. James Bramlett, came to Irwin from six years at Hood. 1 ''The MILES equipment was developed in Hood laboratories; and -'the manuals for Irwiji's Warsaw Pact mockup force (called OPFOR) were written at Hood. The OPFOR consists of two battalions whose commanders say are headed for being the best trained in the Army, but for some pretty bizarre reasons. OPFOR battalions are organized to simulate Soviet formations about <three times their U.S. size, which means that sergeants get to play lieutenant, lieutenants play captain, and so on. OPFOR soldiers duplicate the behavior of Warsaw Pact formations under fire, after weeks of study of the daily life of the Soviet-bloc soldier and the army he forms. It has a huge array of actual Soviet-made tanks and tracks and obsolete U.S. vehicles modified to look like the Soviet article. JACK HALL ICRAFTSMAN QnThcStrund Gah«ston . Handcrafted Gold And Silver Jev**y~ Open 930-5 pjn. Men. through Sat .762-4J4! 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Clipped from
  1. The Galveston Daily News,
  2. 06 Dec 1981, Sun,
  3. Page 36

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