FORT LEE, Va. (April 8, 2010) – Spc. Thomas Blackston’s thoughts were pretty much direct and to the point: kicking in doors and searching for bad guys are more to his liking than sitting in a cubicle.
“I’d much rather be doing this than sitting in the office,” said the Medical Department Activity Soldier assigned to the Training and Education section, Kenner Army Health Clinic.
The “doing this” that Blackstone refers to is called breach entry operations, more commonly known as room-clearing. He and 60 or so of his MEDDAC battle buddies focused on those tactics during Sergeant’s Time training on April 1 at a Monroe Manor housing residence scheduled for demolition.
“We’re out here trying to provide some realistic training for our Soldiers to make sure that they’re prepared in case of any upcoming deployments,” said MEDDAC 1st Sgt. Tycen Blucher, during a break in the action.
The training was a bit out of the ordinary for MEDDAC. Room clearing procedures are used to root out enemy combatants in dwellings and are employed extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan. MEDDAC is a garrison element and has no wartime mission.
That doesn’t mean, however, that MEDDAC Soldiers won’t use these tactics in combat operations. Army Medical Department Soldiers are managed by a personnel system that replenishes slots in Iraq and Afghanistan on a one or two-Soldier basis. Consequently, Soldiers assigned to a non-deployable unit such as a clinic or hospital may get pulled for deployment and possible combat duty.
Blucher, a veteran of Iraq himself, implemented the training because he felt “… that it’s really important to make sure Soldiers understand a little about combat operations so they don’t get caught short when they get to a combat environment.”
The training began in the morning hours with refresher exercises. Later the same day, unit Soldiers gathered at a field next to KAHC to rehearse. Trainers outlined the ground with white tape to simulate rooms, and Soldiers ran through the procedures, practicing single team (four Soldiers)-single room, single team-multiple room and then two-team, multiple room clearing procedures.
At Monroe Manor, Soldiers dressed in full gear and armed with M-16 rifles (no ammunition, blank or otherwise) used what they learned in the previous exercises to secure a two-story residence occupied by a small opposing force. That included using numerous other skills to successfully complete the mission.
“Typically, as they come into each of the rooms, they’re looking for enemy, making sure they’re clearing their sectors of fire and making sure they’re not putting their weapons on a friendly force,” said Blucher. “It’s a multi-step process.”
After each iteration, Soldiers took part in after action reviews headed by the first sergeant.
For the many of the Soldiers participating in the exercise, it was a welcome change to the routine of working in the various clinics at Kenner.
“This training is different than any that I’ve ever had,” said Pvt. Crystal Johnston, a Soldier of 18 months who works at the active duty clinic. “There were actual people in the rooms, and we kicked in doors. I’ve never done that before, so it was new to me. It was excellent, and I learned a lot.”
Blackston, who has been deployed before, said the element of realism made all the difference.
“This is the best training since I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s actually realistic … just as good as the training I did in my previous unit.”
Unit training has to take a back seat at Kenner. Blucher said MEDDAC’s main priority is supporting Kenner operations and so he is continually challenged to provide Soldiers needed training.
“We’re only able to do about five hours of sergeants’s time training a month because of our mission,” he said.
MEDDAC’s unit training program is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, Blucher is optimistic that a good training program will pay dividends in the near future.
“I hope by the end of my tenure, it will be effective,” he said, noting he has another 18 months remaining as first sergeant. “I want them (Soldiers) to be able to survive on the battlefield. That’s the end state for me.”