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The Challenge of Victory

A training program for 30th Medical Brigade Soldiers certifies them
in squad-level tactics they hope they will never have to use on the battlefield.

The sun is shining, and an early morning rainfall has cooled the air just enough to make the heat tolerable. Quietly, a squad of Soldiers moves along a well-worn dirt road toward an unnamed objective. The Soldier walking point continuously scans for anything suspicious that could warrant investigation. The other Soldiers quietly scan their sectors for anything out of the ordinary as they make their way down the road.

A single shot shatters the morning calm. Moving in synch like the gears of a finely tuned machine, the Soldiers fall to the ground and take cover behind anything they can find. They watch for movement in the direction of the gunfire. One Soldier yells out the word that no one wants to hear—“Sniper!”

Immediately, the squad leader calls his radio telephone operator forward so that he can transmit a situation report advising his higher com-mand of contact with an unknown enemy element. In the middle of the transmission, he yells, “Find that guy and tell me where he is!” Another shot rings out and a Soldier yells, “One o’clock!”

The squad leader immediately assesses the risk and begins directing action. “Alpha Team, lay a suppressive base of fire in that direction, and Bravo Team, bound forward!”

This scenario could have occurred anywhere. Fortunately, it was not real; it was part of a training event called “Victory Challenge.” The Soldiers involved were assigned to the 30th Medical Brigade in Heidelberg, Germany. They held a mix of military occupational specialties, and their ranks ranged from private to colonel.

Victory Challenge resulted from a V Corps order mandating that all “V Corps units deploying in support of the Global War on Terrorism must be trained to conduct engagements with enemy forces in the situations Soldiers are likely to encounter in a 360-degree battlefield.” V Corps leaders wanted combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) small-unit leaders to become proficient in attacking and
defending through participation in dismounted situational training exercises, convoy gunnery procedures, and small-arms firing.

Victory Challenge is built around a list of assigned tasks that must be rehearsed until the participants can demonstrate proficiency in them. It is important to note that this training is not merely a pre-deployment requirement. The V Corps order requires all CS and CSS units to train every 2 years and meet qualification standards set forth in tables of standardization published by V Corps. The training focuses on squad-level tactics employed in a variety of situations that units face in areas of operations.

The purpose of Victory Challenge is to instill the warrior ethos in small-unit leaders. In his book, Operation Excellence: Succeeding in Business and Life—The U.S. Military Way, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Bender, U.S. Army (Retired), states, “War is the ultimate imperfection. The best one can hope for is to limit the damage, to keep the screw-ups to a sane level, and to survive to lick the wounds of victory. There can be glory, certainly, but it is always outweighed by the cost of its purchase.”

An objective of training should be to ensure that Soldiers are equipped to make prudent decisions that will instill confidence in younger Soldiers. Realistic training scenarios build confidence in CSS Soldiers by inculcating in them a rational ability to make timely and effective decisions regardless of rank and title.

Certified Soldiers

In October 2004, the 30th Medical Brigade began setting the stage for Victory Challenge. In his fiscal year training guidance, the brigade commander established his intent, which, simply stated, was to “certify all deploying Soldiers on Victory Challenge tasks in a realistic and safe environment.” He wanted all brigade Soldiers to become fully trained and certified in all of the combat arms-related tasks.

V Corps published the requirements of Victory Challenge training in a four-phased concept of operations—

• Phase 1: Individual observer-trainer training (train-the-trainer instruction in all tasks related to Victory Challenge).
• Phase 2: Individual small arms master marksman instruction; close-quarters marksmanship training.
• Phase 3: Collective dismounted critical tasks; squad movement and engagement tactics.
• Phase 4: Collective mounted critical tasks; convoy gunnery.

In April 2005, 25 personnel from 30th Medical Brigade units attended phase 1, a 1-week train-the-trainer course, at Baumholder, Germany. Soldiers assigned to a brigade scout reconnaissance troop of the 1st Armored Division provided instruction on survival techniques and discussed how they could apply lessons learned in Iraq. The train-the-trainer course in-cluded core instruction on—

• Reacting to contact and ambush.
• Calling for indirect fire.
• Launching a squad attack.
• Breaking contact.

Training on additional, more specific tasks was embedded in the core instruction. Those tasks included—

• Conducting patrol operations.
• Establishing an observation post.
• Taking action on contact.
• Reporting tactical information.
• Integrating indirect fire support.
• Conducting troop-leading procedures.
• Consolidating and reorganizing.
• Controlling civil disturbances.
• Searching suspicious civilians.
• Handling detainees.

The 30th Medical Brigade Soldiers then returned to their parent units to develop their own programs of instruction for their respective units.

At the same time, two noncommissioned officers (NCOs) were sent from brigade headquarters to Vilseck, Germany, to attend phase 2 of the training—the Small Arms Master Marksman (SAMM) Course. The SAMM Course provided instruction in—

• Basic and advanced marksmanship techniques.
• Small arms maintenance.
• Target acquisition and discrimination principles.
• Close-quarters marksmanship techniques.

With the first two phases behind them, the 30th Medical Brigade Soldiers returned to their parent units to develop their own programs of instruction for their units. The trainers moved on to phases 3 and 4—developing and presenting what they had learned to brigade staff members. These tasks proved to be a bit more challenging than previous phases. Because the 30th is a medical brigade, many of its assigned Soldiers had very little, if any, combat arms training. The training was to be as realistic as possible, and, as an additional challenge, the skills learned would be demonstrated to many Soldiers who had yet to be deployed to an actual theater of operations.

Six Soldiers—two sergeants, two sergeants first class, and two captains—from brigade headquarters were tasked with developing the training. This training support team had only 1 week before they would have to provide the training to a select group of bri-gade staff members. It would be their first “trial by fire.” To develop a lesson plan, the team drew on their individual experiences in various assignments, many in combat, and incorporated some of the skills they had learned during phase 1.

The headquarters company commander and first sergeant promised to provide the resources needed for the training. Initially, the team developed a training plan that directly mirrored phase 1 training at Baumholder.

The training timeline was tight. With only 4 days before the first iteration would begin, each member of the training support team worked diligently to ensure that the training was meaningful and not merely a “check-the-block” event. One Soldier arranged for a training site in Heidelberg. Another called the ammunition supply point and secured ammunition to use during training. Meanwhile, other Soldiers contacted the 1st Armored Division brigade reconnaissance team that had provided the train-the-trainer instruction and obtained information to use in developing a program of instruction.

The headquarters company commander and first sergeant and the range officer in charge (OIC) conducted a leader’s reconnaissance of the proposed training site to make sure that the terrain was suitable. The general consensus was that the site could support all but one of the planned training tasks—military operations on urban terrain (MOUT) training. This shortfall proved to be only a minor problem that was overcome easily with a little ingenuity. As General George S. Patton, Jr., once stated, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

With a few minor alterations and a bit of improvisation, the group decided that a former tear gas chamber on the site could be converted into an acceptable MOUT training area. The building and its external security fence would be modified to simulate windows, and the instructors would move around the building during training to provide a realistic impression of checking windows as they moved through potential “kill zones.”

Grid coordinates were set for MEDEVAC (medical evacuation) operations, and other critical training areas and terrain features were designated on a sketch map. The next step was to return to garrison, package the training plan, and brief the brigade commander.

The training support team, along with the team OIC and NCOIC, presented the training plan to the brigade commander. He approved the program of instruction and told the team that he hoped, when the training was over, each Soldier would have a better understanding of his role as a CSS enabler in a combat theater of operations.

Trial by Fire

The first day of phase 3—dismounted training—was rainy and cold. The training support team arrived at the training site at 0700 and set up the necessary training aids. The first day would be devoted to close-quarters marksmanship skills and reflexive fire techniques. The training audience would include doctors, mental health professionals, environmental science professionals, administrative support personnel, and communications technicians.

When the training audience arrived on site in Heidelberg, the instructors began with discussions of recent experiences of a variety of units and related some of their own personal experiences during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. They encouraged the Soldiers to think of new ways to employ their teams effectively in scenarios ranging from issuing guidance in a hasty operation order briefing to reacting to an ambush to consolidating and reorganizing after a fight.

The OIC presented a safety briefing and some general training rules of engagement. He also presented a vignette that was based on a recent incident in Iraq and asked each member of the training audience to think about how he would react in a similar situation. The trainees were asked not to focus on their own specialties but on the reality of a fight for survival on the battlefield.

The training audience was broken down into three teams of 10 to 15 Soldiers each, which were designated as squads. As members of squads, the Soldiers were forced to think of themselves as members of small fighting elements. As such, they did everything together. They sat together during classes, ate together during breaks, laughed and talked together, and supported each other’s decisions during situation-oriented training. As the training progressed, the focus was less on how a team fights and more on team development. Unlike combat arms units, CSS units—specifically medical units—usually do not function as teams, squads, or platoons, so the teams had to be reminded of this concept for the training to be effective.

As the end of the week approached, many of the junior Soldiers were showing confidence in their own ability to make decisions. One Soldier was overheard jokingly commenting that “bossing a lieutenant colonel around was sort of fun.” Such perks were less important than one emerging certainty: They were accomplishing the tasks at hand. Soldiers were obviously benefiting from rehearsing unfamiliar tasks.

On the final day of phase 3, the Soldiers were instructed how to handle civilians on the battlefield, enemy prisoners of war, and small civil disturbances. A situational training exercise that followed incorporated all of the tasks that had been taught throughout the week. The Soldiers were issued an operation order to which they were required to respond by preparing and issuing an order to subordinate teams. When each team’s leader advised the trainers that his team was ready, the exercise began.

The Soldiers were forced to react to snipers, ambushes, and civilians on the battlefield. They had to link up with a convoy and move along a designated route, where they had to react to an improvised explosive device and send appropriate reports to their higher headquarters. As each team went through the training lane, the trainers recorded observations about its performance. Following the exercise and an informal after-action review, phase 3 was complete. Each Soldier had met the commander’s intent.

The trainers moved on to phase 4—mounted tasks during convoy gunnery training at the Grafenwoehr Training Area. An added challenge during this phase was that two of the instructors had been reassigned to the rear detachment command team and would not be available to assist. The OIC asked his G–3 training officer to canvass the other 25 trainers who had attended the train-the-trainer course for help. Thirteen Soldiers responded, and the training was scheduled for June on a range at Grafenwoehr.

The training support team assembled at Grafenwoehr and built a terrain model for the training audience. The training was conducted in three stages. In the first, the Soldiers conducted convoy operations with no ammunition. In the second, they conducted convoy operations using blanks. A safety team was on hand during the blank-fire training to identify potential hazards before the Soldiers moved to live-fire training. Finally, the Soldiers used live ammunition when they conducted convoy operations. With the completion of the live-fire training, each squad was certified for deployment.

To date, more than 500 30th Medical Brigade Soldiers have been trained without personal injury or damage to equipment. During each Victory Challenge iteration, the Soldiers were usually motivated and attentive. They left the training with more confidence in their ability to attack and defend if necessary as they perform their duties, and they were eager to share with other Soldiers the life-saving lessons they learned during Victory Challenge. ALOG

Captain Jerry D. VanVactor is a Medical Service Corps logistics officer assigned to the G–4, 30th Medical Brigade, V Corps, in Heidelberg, Germany. He was the officer in charge of the training support team during Victory Challenge. Captain VanVactor has a bachelor’s degree in health science from Athens State University in Alabama and a master’s degree in healthcare man-agement from Touro University International. He is a graduate of the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Medical Logistics Management Course, the Support Operations Officer Course (Phase I), and the Army Contracting Officer’s Represen-tative Course.

The author would like to extend special thanks to Captain Scott Hogue, Sergeant First Class Vincente Delacruz, Sergeant First Class Lemuelle Scott, Sergeant Adrian Carreon, and Sergeant Scott Stewart, members of the Headquarters Company training support team during Victory Challenge.