NTC in Pictures: A Look at an Army Brigade's Decisive Action Rotation

A soldier with the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team peers around a corner during a May 8 urban training battle at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. The opposing force (OPFOR) armored vehicle has a flashing amber light indicating that it has been knocked out during the battle. Matthew Cox/Military.com
A soldier with the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team peers around a corner during a May 8 urban training battle at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. The opposing force (OPFOR) armored vehicle has a flashing amber light indicating that it has been knocked out during the battle. Matthew Cox/Military.com

FORT IRWIN, California -- One of the takeaways 3rd Infantry Division soldiers here can agree on is that the National Training Center shows a unit what it's like to fight a formidable enemy on its own turf.

"When we do training exercises like this back at Fort Stewart [Georgia], the enemy is wearing the same uniform that we are wearing. They use the same equipment, the same tanks and everything, so it's kind of a pain to discriminate between what is enemy and what is friendly," said Spc. Kalani Palacio, a forward observer attached to the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team's 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment. "But here, you can clearly distinguish friend and foe, and I think that is pretty important."

The Army's 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, known as the "Black Horse," plays the opposing force (OPFOR) at NTC. It's equipped with nearly 200 hybrid vehicles constructed out of M113s equipped with Bradley turrets to replicate Russian Army BMP 3 fighting vehicles and T90 tanks.

OPFOR units know the 1,000 square miles of training space extremely well, forcing visiting units to use the mountainous terrain to hide their formations from detection.

Vehicles and command tents of the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade sit in a valley surrounded by mountainous terrain in an attempt to hide from the enemy during a recent rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com
Vehicles and command tents of the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade sit in a valley surrounded by mountainous terrain in an attempt to hide from the enemy during a recent rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com

Soldiers from the 2nd ABCT have quickly learned to respect the Black Horse and its tactical prowess on the battlefield.

"I think it's good that it's hard, that these people know the terrain, because worst-case scenario, the people that we fight are also going to know their terrain," said Sgt. Stephen Lacy, a gunner on an M1 tank from 3rd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment. "It's a hard enemy to fight."

An M1 tank from the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team travels in a convoy May 7 at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com
An M1 tank from the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team travels in a convoy May 7 at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com

One of the goals of the cadre of observer-controllers (OCs) is to teach units how to improve their planning processes and use their combined-arms capabilities more effectively against an enemy like the OPFOR at NTC.

"Where we have an OPFOR that is as capable as Black Horse [which] operates off of a near-peer enemy doctrine, we really need to first understand the terrain that we are operating on and understand the enemy and the way that they will execute their operations," said Maj. James Carr, an OC and brigade executive officer trainer at NTC.

Army Capt. Timothy Cody and Maj. Ritchie Rhodes Jr. discuss operational plans May 6 inside the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team’s tactical operations center during a recent rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com
Army Capt. Timothy Cody and Maj. Ritchie Rhodes Jr. discuss operational plans May 6 inside the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team’s tactical operations center during a recent rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com

"Once we understand what the enemy is doing, and we have done the science and the analysis, we can then start to define what our plan is and then go through the planning iterations of developing a concept of operations of 'How are we going to defeat the enemy?'" he said.

Capt. Eric Cannon, commander of Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, seated, briefs his leaders the night before the May 8, 2019, attack on the fictional town of Razish at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com
Capt. Eric Cannon, commander of Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, seated, briefs his leaders the night before the May 8, 2019, attack on the fictional town of Razish at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com

One of the main challenges of the 2nd ABCT's recent rotation here was a May 8 attack on the fictional town of Razish, one of NTC's largest urban complexes.

Units had to maneuver Bradley fighting vehicles, tanks and other vehicles through enemy-held terrain before they could begin their assault on the enemy-held town.

A Bradley fighting vehicle from the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team moves through enemy territory on the morning of May 8 before an attack on the fictional town of Razish at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com
A Bradley fighting vehicle from the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team moves through enemy territory on the morning of May 8 before an attack on the fictional town of Razish at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com

After breaching an obstacle designed to deny access to the town, the Bradleys surged forward so infantrymen could dismount and begin clearing the hundreds of buildings in the town.

Infantrymen from the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team sprint from behind cover during a May 8 urban battle at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com
Infantrymen from the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team sprint from behind cover during a May 8 urban battle at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com

Squads of soldiers sprinted across open areas, clearing building after building. Simulated enemy machine-gun and rifle fire took its toll on 2nd ABCT soldiers, triggering the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES) they wore on their equipment.

Pvt. Isaac Lemos of Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 15 Infantry Regiment, clutches a green casualty card while playing the role of a soldier killed in action during a May 8 urban battle at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com
Pvt. Isaac Lemos of Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 15 Infantry Regiment, clutches a green casualty card while playing the role of a soldier killed in action during a May 8 urban battle at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com

Casualties are given a casualty card and evacuated to the field hospital nearby.

Wounded soldiers usually rejoin their units within six to 12 hours, said Col. Carl Michaud, deputy commander of NTC.

"If they died of wounds, then it's probably going to be 24 hours before they are sent back," he said.

Leaders from 2nd ABCT were reluctant to discuss exact casualty figures, but Lt. Col. Arthur McGrue III, commander of 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, said the attack on Razish cost him all but two of the battalion's Bradleys.

"It forces a unit to think through what they are going to do for the next mission, because if I just lost six tanks and 20 soldiers ... I may not be capable to do what the commander needs me to do," NTC Command Sgt. Major Matthew Lowe said.

Army M88A2 Hercules recovery vehicles tow Bradley fighting vehicles belonging to the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team that were knocked out of action during a recent rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com
Army M88A2 Hercules recovery vehicles tow Bradley fighting vehicles belonging to the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team that were knocked out of action during a recent rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Matthew Cox/Military.com

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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