CAMP EDWARDS, Mass. – As Soldiers from the 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade moved on foot through a mock Afghan village with their weapons at the ready, they had no idea what was about to hit them.
During scenario after scenario, role players acting, as Afghan villagers and insurgents, came at them with broken down cars, rocket propelled grenades and worst of all, a language barrier.
During annual training, Soldiers practiced their individual jobs from intelligence analyst to human resource specialist, but before they could do that they participated in Army Warrior Tasks such as crawling under barbed wire, carrying casualties and reacting to being shot at by insurgents.
Infantry units may be better suited to deal with these types of situations; however, the 26th MEB is a very capable, new and special organization designed to support the national military strategy and respond to state and federal authorities as a part of civil support operations. Although this covers a wide spectrum of functions, some examples could be during major combat operations, such as, overseeing river crossings, protecting forces and critical infrastructure, and reinforcing brigade combat teams with tailored engineer, military police, chemical, or other supporting capabilities.
This multifunctional brigade has personnel assigned to it that cover a range of skill-sets; however no matter what their specialty, all of these people are Soldiers first and must train to fight and survive on the modern battlefield.
At the Maj. Jeffrey R. Calero Military Operations in Urban Terrain Site, a mock urban setting where service members are trained to operate in populated cities and towns, the Soldiers practiced patrolling villages and searching buildings for hostile forces nestled amongst noncombatants.
Jake Collins, a civilian contractor hired to assist during the peak training season switched between roles as an Afghan motorist having car trouble and an insurgent that surrendered to American Soldiers. Summing up his experience on Camp Edwards Collins said, “I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen during the three weeks that I’ve been here. They have to do the impossible. I’ve heard about it but now I’ve seen it.”
To enhance training the Soldiers were taken away from their normal sections and assigned to mixed platoons and learned to work together as a team under stressful conditions.
Army Spc. Anthony C. DeCarlo, a cook assigned to HHC 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, experienced the challenges the MOUT site had to offer from a screaming woman to sporadic ambushes by anti-Afghan forces. After completing the last training scenario DeCarlo smiled and expressed his relief saying, “That’s confusing stuff out there.”
Physicians assistants, military police and human resource specialists from the 26th all have one thing in common, they are trained in the Army Warrior Tasks so that when they are placed in unfamiliar circumstances they can react to whatever awaits them behind the next door, window or on the next street. During their time at the MOUT site they quickly remembered their combat drills, learned from their mistakes, and refined their techniques to become better after every scenario.
Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Johnson, a trainer from the 181 Infantry Brigade, 1st Army said, “This group has been doing very well. They are mainly a brigade staff that doesn’t do this type of training as part of their main focus. They have progressed in leaps and bounds today since their first run through the MOUT site and that’s what the training is all about.”
Army Sgt. Amy J. Barry, a human resources sergeant with the 26th recalled her experiences during annual training saying, “The MOUT site was a good training tool for us, it brought many different sections together allowing us to learn from the experiences of some who have been deployed overseas. The training was videotaped and we got to watch some of it and received advice on how to handle some situations and maneuver techniques better. It was a great exercise for team building and cohesion for us as a Brigade. We also did some other team building activities that were a little less stressful than the MOUT site like the rappel tower, played sports and went through the Leadership Reaction Course,” said Barry.
The LRC challenges small teams of Soldiers mentally and physically with tasks such crossing a body of water by lashing two short planks together and having one Soldier try to walk to the end of the plank and jump the rest of the way. The challenge was that one Soldier had to balance precariously over the water while the rest of the team used their combined weight to hold the board still.
Going through this type of training helps to build history between the Soldiers and will hopefully help them gel as a team no matter what the future may bring.
Outlining the challenges of training and developing a specialized unit like the 26th, Master Sgt. David Correia, the MEBs acting 1st Sgt. said, “Two of our challenges are team development and cohesion. When you look at the MEB it’s more like a league than an individual franchise. The many cells such as military police, engineers, chemical, medical, administration, etc. that make up the MEB must function as a team if they are to be successful as a team. Once the smaller teams are developed, the larger team is brought together through inclusion and cohesion. The sense of being part of something bigger, that is doing something greater than just what your team can do alone. I think we did well at team development considering this was our first annual training as a MEB and I look forward to the future,” said Correia.