The Way You Train is the Way You Fight
NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST
As a senior NCO, I had the opportunity to influence many Soldiers over the years. Sometimes, however, my junior Soldiers impressed me instead of the other way around. One young Soldier affected the rest of my career — and even saved my life — by insisting on rehearsing rollover battle drills.
While I don’t remember the Soldier’s name, I do know he was a private first class who went by the call sign “Fatcat.” Even though PFC Fatcat was subordinate in rank to me, he had the courage to tell me I was wrong. He insisted we rehearse rollover battle drills, and I didn’t want to. I really didn’t see the significance in what he said. After all, he was just a kid! Grudgingly, we rehearsed the drills. All the while I thought, “Will we ever really use this?”
I was stationed at the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels, Germany, which was my first (and only) assignment to a mechanized unit. As the opposing forces (OPFOR), our mission was to replicate the tactics, techniques and procedures used by the enemy against U.S. forces. This was done in a tactical war-playing scenario where real equipment was used. As the scout platoon sergeant, I was responsible for the maintenance and tactical replication of a combat reconnaissance platoon. Our primary task was to gather intelligence information to support the regiment’s mission, which was accomplished by entering the area of operations two to four days before the motorized rifle regiments.
At first, this particular mission showed signs of success. The scout platoon identified several high-payoff targets from the commander’s critical information requirements. We identified items such as wire-mined obstacles, first-line shooters (one company of M1A1 tanks) and one mortar platoon. When targets were identified, we called in artillery strikes on those positions and sought other targets of opportunity.
Once the attack was underway, our regiment was wreaking havoc on the U.S. forces. Our follow-on mission was to reconnoiter three separate routes and identify the route of least resistance. We piled into our M113 Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) and I decided on a northerly route that tended to be more difficult during adverse weather conditions. It wasn’t long before we spotted two M1A1 tanks and a platoon of M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFVs). As we called in an artillery strike on their positions, we were spotted by two more BFVs. We then did the only thing OPFOR could do in that situation — we tried to get out of there!
It had rained over the last couple of days and the terrain was basically mush. The BFVs immediately engaged us as we attempted to elude them. Outrunning them was not an option; however, I thought that if we took some of the more difficult terrain, we could possibly outmaneuver them.
We spotted a trail off to the right and took it, with the BFVs in hot pursuit. I told my driver to keep going along the trail, which curved to the right after about 300 meters, until we lost them. I realized we were moving too fast to negotiate the curve safely, but our only alternative was to pile head-first into some very thick vegetation. The driver also knew we were going too fast and attempted to slow down, but it was too late.
I felt the vehicle sway, first to the left and then to the right, just before we flipped on our side. As the vehicle started to roll, I heard the driver yelling at me through the intercom to use the quick-release button on the track commander’s (TC) seat so I wouldn’t be crushed. I pressed it and in a split second was inside the vehicle, which skidded to a stop 300 meters down the trail.
Our APC’s main gun was torn from the turret, the TC’s hatch was broken, two of four multiple integrated laser engagement system detection belts were ripped off, and the track belts and a sprocket were broken. The driver had a few bumps and bruises, and my leg was pretty banged up. But we were alive. Considering what could have happened, we were very fortunate. The kid was right. I would never have found that quick-release button in time if we didn’t rehearse those rollover battle drills.
It’s been many years since this incident, but I still remember the valuable lessons I learned that day:
- The way you train is the way you fight, and that training must be realistic and performed to standard.
- Safety is everyone’s job, not just the person in charge.
- Learning can occur at all levels, regardless of rank.
Knowledge is a two-way street. It was my responsibility to learn from my Soldiers, and theirs to learn from me. I often wonder how many fatalities could be prevented if those Soldiers had rehearsed rollover battle drills. “Train as we fight” must be more than just words.