Submitted by the U. S. Army
FORT IRWIN, Calif. – The tactics used by enemy combatants during war are constantly changing, and it’s up to the son of a Phoenix woman and a group of specially trained soldiers out here in the Mojave Desert to keep our deployed troops trained to recognize those ever-changing dangers.
Army Pvt. Talon J. Sotherden, son of Erin Sotherden of Main Street, Phoenix, played the role of an Iraqi national during a recent deployment rotation at the National Training Center, a sprawling Army post about the size of Rhode Island.
Sotherden is one of several role players at the 643,000 acre area designed to look and feel like a Middle Eastern country to give deploying brigades an as realistic environment as possible to practice for what they will encounter while on deployment. There are several small forward operating bases and mock towns throughout the expansive training area.
“I am playing a member of an insurgent cell for this rotation of soldiers being trained for their deployment,” said Sotherden, a 2009 graduate of John C. Birdlebough High School.
Sotherden is one of 700 full-time combat trainers who observe and control units during exercises. There are also numerous Iraqis hired to be “locals” to give the soldiers an extra sense of realism. Many of the role players and combat trainers stay in the mock towns while the units are training.
For one month the team works to train close to 5,000 soldiers in the tactics and techniques they will need based on previous experiences and lessons learned by other soldiers who have recently deployed.
“We train the soldiers in tactics that have been used in the area of responsibility so they know what they can expect,” said Sotherden, a combat engineer assigned to the 58th Civil Engineer Company, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Irwin, Calif.
For the first seven days of training, soldiers prepare for operations by practicing tactics, ensuring their equipment is working properly and building combat capabilities. For the next two weeks soldiers endure live-fire exercises, simulated mortar attacks, patrol towns and interact with locals, some friendly, some hostile, and practice force protection scenarios. All of this is done while living like they would while deployed. That includes sleeping in tents full of cots, eating one, maybe two hot meals and an MRE every day, and having little time for showers and personal hygiene.
“It is important to keep this training up to date because the soldiers need to know what tactics and equipment the enemy is currently using against us,” said Sotherden.
During the 10 training rotations each year, Sotherden and the other combat trainers simulate attacks on the combat units in training at random intervals both day and night, in the cold and heat of the desert, all with the intention of getting the soldiers conditioned to any situation they may encounter on their upcoming deployment.
“I want the soldiers who come through here to be able to know combat tactics so they can survive their deployment,” said Sotherden, who has completed six months of military service.
Sotherden and the other trainers, role-players and staff at the NTC are giving combat units the training needed to ensure that all of our military members have the skills they need to survive their deployments and complete any job they are asked to do to the best of their abilities.