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Training at Yakima.

AWAKENING to the rumble of 155mm howitzers in barren, mountainous steppes reminiscent of Southwest Asia is a rite of passage observed for decades by Soldiers from Fort Lewis, Wash., and throughout the western United States. But today, battling the high desert elements of Washington's Yakima Training Center has taken on new meaning as an integral part of units' preparation for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Located on a hilly, sparse tract of land peppered with shrubs in central Washington, YTC allows U.S. service members and coalition partners the opportunity to train in an environment similar to what they will encounter in the war on terrorism.

"YTC is truly the premier training center in the Northwest that provides training venues, ranges and all necessary support for all types of units," said LTC Rick Nohmer, YTC's commander.

Born of necessity just before World War II, the U.S. government in 1941 acquired 160,000 acres from Yakima, Wash.-area landowners to establish Yakima Anti-Aircraft Artillery Range on Umtanum Ridge. The initial camp, situated 13 miles northeast of the present cantonment area was outfitted with temporary buildings.

From 1942 to 1943, a second camp, Yakima Firing Center, was established at the present location. It was primarily used by artillery, infantry, engineer, Reserve and National Guard units based in the Pacific Northwest.

Use of the land was greatly reduced following the end of World War II, and in 1947 some 60,000 acres were returned to the previous owners. By 1951, however, the Army had purchased 265,000 acres of the land for $3.3 million, realizing its value as a training site.

In 1995 the installation annexed another 63,000 acres, bringing YTC to its current size of 511 square miles.

"We are one of the only places left in the Army where you can put 10,000 Soldiers in the field and they won't bump into each other," Nohmer said. "This is one of the only installations where we can fire all weapon systems at their maximum effective range, with the exception of the Patriot missile."

American forces are not the sole beneficiaries of Yakima's massive training area.

"The Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces come here every year in September. They bring in all their own equipment and hundreds of soldiers to conduct training," Nohmer said. Coalition partners from allied countries also train at YTC, as do members of the other U.S. services.

YTC boasts two airfields, four drop zones and a state-of-the-art multipurpose range complex.

Train Like You fight

Given the changing face of war and the emphasis on the global war on terrorism, the availability of realistic, up-to-date training scenarios is invaluable to the survival of American Soldiers. Paramount to the YTC training experience is the stress of an unforgiving, uncomfortable operating environment--one of the undeniable calling cards of combat on foreign soil.

"It's kind of nice to be 176.3 miles from the 'flagpole,' so folks come out here to focus on training. It's worked out very well," Nohmer said. Desolation adds to the training experience, because it offers units the ability to train without the distractions of their normal surroundings.

"If you look around here, you don't see anything but Yakima. You have no distractions," said 2LT Curtis Thomas, a platoon leader in Troop T, 5th Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment. "We're out in the middle of no man's land, and this is a ghost town. All they can focus on is training, training, training."

Many Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans have commented on the similarities between Yakima and the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

"We have to deal with the elements. There's a lot of dust, and it's cold out here, so we're getting the chance to test out our equipment here in the elements, as opposed to in a motor pool somewhere," said CPT Jonathan Stafford, commander of Headquarters and HQs. Battery, 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regt.

"Here at Yakima, the desert environment is very helpful to us. Drivers, for example, can train to drive in sandy conditions similar to those in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Stafford.

The nature of the training center forces units to use the life-sustaining equipment organic to their organizations. Modern conveniences cease to exist, and Soldiers quickly realize that what they didn't bring, they simply won't have access to.

"Once you go out six miles up Cold Creek Road here, power stops," Nohmer said. "There's no power out on the installation. What that forces them to do is use what they have. It means they have to bring their generators and whatever else they would need to survive on a daily basis. It means they have to set up their communications packages to support them during their deployment."

The units are not entirely helpless, however. They can request portable chemical toilets, field showers and laundry points by coordinating in advance through Yakima's Directorate of Public Works.

Fire in the Hole

Long-range weapon systems are still among YTC's key beneficiaries. One unit profiting from its size is the 5th Bn., 5th ADA Regt., a unit that recently moved from South Korea's 2nd Infantry Division to join Fort Lewis' 555th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.

As part of the Army's restructuring, 5/5 ADA has pulled Soldiers from other units and has taken in dozens of recent initial-entry training graduates. These new Soldiers and new units need practice in realistic training scenarios.

"Since re-forming the battalion, we've had a lot of new Soldiers come in, so this is actually their first time out in the field. We've had a chance to teach them a lot of Soldier skills to survive in the field," Stafford said.

Additionally, the unit recently restructured from using Bradley Linebackers to Avengers, and this was the Soldiers' first opportunity to quality on the Avengers' weapon systems. The Avenger is equipped with eight Stinger missiles in two turret-mounted missile launchers, a .50-caliber machine gun, a sensor package with a forward-looking infrared receiver and a laser range finder.

"This is the only place in the Northwest for us to fire a Stinger missile. The wide open terrain here allows us to do that, which is a definite benefit of the YTC," Stafford said.

Take No Prisoners

With units abroad battling insurgents in towns and villages, troops are training heavily in simulated urban environments, learning room-clearing techniques and maneuvering skills involving armed and unarmed civilians on the battlefield.

YTC provides venues for both room-clearing and military-operations-on-urban-terrain training in the form of a 360-degree "shoot house" and an urban-assault course.

The shoot house offers multiple rooms, all with doors to breech. Each room is lined with a substance called Dura block, "basically shredded tires about a foot and half thick, so you can actually shoot live rounds inside the facility," said Kevin Cameron, urban-assault course and shoot house information-systems technician.

Situated throughout the building are life-sized mannequins equipped with sensors. When they take a "mortal" hit, they fall. They are also outfitted with non-mortal sensors that technicians program to take multiple hits before falling. Cameras are located in every room to record the training.

Another valuable feature of the shoot house is a motion sensor that picks up the Soldier as soon as he enters the room and records his reaction time between entering the room and firing the first round.

The urban-assault course is another new feature at Yakima, and it comes complete with its own "insurgents."

The 18-building complex with multiple stories boasts a live-fire capability and an underground sewer system that winds under a small city block. It's used for units that need to hone their urban-operations techniques, Nohmer said.

Maneuvering through the streets and among the buildings with "local nationals" in the area makes for an unpredictable situation and forces Soldiers and leaders to analyze scenarios and react quickly, while avoiding collateral damage.

"I learned how to be more reactive, how to trust my guys, how to keep my eyes open, look around and communicate with the locals," said PFC Daniel Soto, a 5/2 crewmember.

Remaining Relevant and Ready

A major tenet of the YTC training philosophy is applying lessons learned in-theater to keep training in line with current conflicts.

"One of the things that the Army's done really well since the start of the war on terror is taking lessons learned from downrange and incorporating them into unit training," Nohmer said. Lessons learned are translated into tactics, techniques and procedures, or emerging doctrine, and are practiced at places like YTC.

The result of this approach to training is evident in the construction of the shoot house, the urban-assault course, and plans to construct other facilities at YTC by October 2011. Those include converting the northern portion of the central-impact area into a 16-kilometer-by- 12-kilometer free-maneuver "box" that can accommodate a battalion-sized element or larger for combined-arms operations.

"It'll consist of an aerial gunnery range, a multi-purpose training range and a digitized multi-purpose range complex that contains a battle-assault course," Nohmer said.

SPC Leah Burton is assigned to the 28th Public Affairs Detachment.
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Title Annotation:Yakima Training Center
Author:Burton, Leah R.
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Words:1508
Previous Article:USO: same mission, new methods.
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