FORT POLK, La. – Assembling a security team and maneuvering through hostile areas with the intent to locate and neutralize improvised explosive devices while simultaneously engaging insurgents with small arms fire is a mission not typically assigned to every Soldier.
“In two days, we went from having nothing to having a group of guys who are able to go out and fulfill a task that looked very much like a patrol I did any time in Afghanistan as an infantryman,” said Staff Sgt. Alan Scarlett from B Company, the security team’s noncommissioned officer in charge and also a former infantryman.
A security team of about 25 Soldiers from B Company, 626th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, conducted an IED defeat situational training exercise Friday at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.
The type of mission the Soldiers were rehearsing is usually assigned to combat arms and explosive ordinance disposal or route clearance elements. It also generally requires several years of cumulative training to perfect the techniques in order to properly execute these missions while minimizing casualties.
Scarlett said that when he was notified that he would be in charge of training the security team for the IED Defeat exercise, he had some concerns; but he was motivated to make it happen.
“Knowing what we were up against, am I going to be up for the task of teaching these guys?” Scarlett said. “Do I know all I need to know as an infantryman and an NCO to take these guys? Because they’re all looking at me and I’m wearing a CIB on my chest. I’m from ‘Iron’ (1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT), so there’s an expectation and I’m going to be all about it.”
The team, which was temporarily put together strictly for the purpose of doing the exercise, was a group of Soldiers composed of mechanics and technicians, many of them unfamiliar with combat operations all together. They had only two days to train and prepare themselves for the difficult task ahead.
“They looked, for the most part, like infantrymen out there,” said Scarlett. “You wouldn’t know it was just a group of mechanics and missile technicians and stuff like that. Impressive, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The purpose of the exercise was to test the team’s ability to identify and react to IEDs while conducting a combat patrol through an area that was designed to simulate a district in Afghanistan. Several tasks were integrated into the exercise along the way to further complicate the mission, such as ambushes from insurgents, treating casualties, calling for medical evacuations and recovering vehicles after they are inevitably hit by some of the IEDs along the way.
Throughout the exercise, they also had to build relationships by speaking with the local Afghan populace so that they would have their support and receive information about the possible locations of IEDs in the area.
According to the observer/controller/trainers on the lane, the end result was a mission success because they had great leadership, everyone worked together as a team and they were highly motivated to accomplish the mission.
Sergeant Daniel Hutchings, a team leader from B Company, believes that Scarlett lived up to that expectation.
“I think he was a key factor,” Hutchings said about Scarlett. “To bring a former infantryman into the mix, a guy that’s been there and done that in the real world, that adds a certain level of experience to the crew. There’s no replacement for experience, there really isn’t. He brought the leadership to the table. He really helped us out a lot in deciding how this was going to happen, how this was going to work, how we were going to set up our trucks.”
Although Scarlett had the combat experience, the other leaders in the security team were also essential. He said that the convoy commander, 1st Lt. Aaron Kurincak, played a huge role in the mission.
“This is the first lieutenant I have ever seen, and I’ll say this a thousand times, that did exactly what he needed to do when he needed to do it- called a MEDEVAC, did this, did that,” Scarlett said. “And this is even with OCs in his window making things more confusing by asking questions and interfering with what he is doing. But he kept his cool, didn’t freak out, didn’t freeze up.”
However, if all of the Soldiers operating under these leaders did not work together as a team, the mission would have been a failure regardless. Their willingness and ability to execute what their leaders were teaching was just as essential at every level. Spc. Magdaleno Flores, a dismount gunner from B Company, said that everyone did just that.
“Nobody was trying to say no to whatever we were told to do,” Flores said. “Everybody was just willing to do whatever it was to accomplish the mission. I think that’s pretty much what made us do as we did.”
After training these Soldiers for only two days, Scarlett quickly learned from these Soldiers that when it comes to accomplishing a mission, a Soldier’s job in the Army does not matter as much as the training they receive. In the end, every Soldier is part of the fight.
“At first I was afraid,” Scarlett said. “I thought that being a bunch of mechanics, that they were just going to say, ‘We’re just a bunch of mechanics, we don’t want to do this, this isn’t what we do, let’s just go through it.’ No, they were excited. They want to go out and be Soldiers and what a shock to the enemy that would be. They think they’re going to come in here and fire mortars on our FOB, and they’re going to meet a bunch of mechanics out there in gun trucks who are just going to take them out.”