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Dagger Brigade drills in preparation to lead Army’s shift toward Africa

By Rose Schneider

Soldiers from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, known as the Dagger Brigade, conducted a combined arms live fire exercise Thursday at Fort Riley.

“Today’s mission was very important because it was the culminating event that we’ve been practicing for since the beginning of summer,” said Col. Jeff Broadwater, commander of the brigade.

The 2nd Armored will be deploying to Africa next year, where soldiers will be assigned to advise, train and assist soldiers from various African nations. It will be part of the first U.S. force assigned to that part of the world.

Participants in Thursday’s drill, however, said this exercise was a more generalized form of training focusing on the use of new vehicles and equipment. They indicated the brigade would be working on Africa-specific training in the coming months.

The brigade had been preparing since April for Tuesday’s event, which combined maneuver equipment and both ground and air forces from the 4,000-soldier unit.

The purpose was to prepare soldiers to successfully counter attack during a live-fire attack.

“The soldiers were really excited,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Steven Pratis. “They were hootin’ and hollerin’ when rounds were going off from the tanks and aircrafts.”

This was Pratis’s first training exercise with live ammunition. He had worked with light infantry for 11 years and said working with heavy armor is a lot different from what he is used to.

“It’s a lot of extra work,” Pratis said. “With this you have to coordinate with tanks, aircraft and soldiers on the ground instead of just shoot then stop, shoot then stop.”

A lot of preparation went into ensuring the drill would be safe for everyone involved. Before the exercise could take place, targets had to be prepared, the route where vehicles would drive had to be mapped out, and the locations where soldiers would shoot had to be calculated. All of that to make sure no one accidentally shot into the town of Riley, which is just north of the exercise’s location. Weapons also were set to shoot limited distances as well as burn off once they reached a certain distance for additional safety measures.

In April, the Dagger Brigade received the Army’s newest versions of Abrams tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The soldiers demonstrated the use of those vehicles during Thursday’s exercise. Soldiers maneuvered the large equipment while syncing direct fire with indirect fire, utilizing aviation assistance from Apache helicopters.

The brigade started training during the summer, working on basic skills such as being a loader, gunner or vehicle commander. After soldiers completed that training they moved up to individual or crew level training with qualified vehicles on a range. The final step before Thursday’s exercise was to successfully operate on a platoon level with four vehicles.

“Today is special because for 10 years, Fort Riley has been focusing on Iraq and Afghanistan with different skillsets,” said Broadwater. “We would usually focus on live fire with small arms or in Humvees whereas today those were incorporated with Bradleys and tanks.”

When it ships out to Africa, the Dagger Brigade will be aligned with the U.S. Africa Command.

“We’re fortunate with the AFRICOM piece because we’ll be allowed to hone combat skills while focusing on the host’s nation security partnerships, enabling security forces in other countries,” said Broadwater.

The Dagger Brigade is expected to be in Africa from spring 2013 to summer 2014. During that time, units will “maintain combat skills in case there are contingencies while building capacity with the host nation’s security forces.”

The work in Africa is similar to what the 2/1ID has done in Afghanistan or Iraq but is unique to the new location.

“We’ll show the host nation security forces, basic marksmanship and how to do capabilities with first aid,” said Broadwater. “We will also do exercises with the host nation like would be seen in the Caltex.”

The unique terrain at Fort Riley makes training exercises like the one that took place on Thursday extremely realistic since it allows commanders to “gain control of their forces” while focusing on deployability for missions such as next year’s.

Broadwater said his soldiers are looking forward to working in Africa. “We’ve learned great skills from partnering with host nation security forces through Iraq and Afghanistan but now we’ll get to share them in another part of the world, learning from them as well.”

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