Fort Polk, (KALB) Just before sunset on a Sunday, British soldiers make their attack to retake a fictional city from insurgents as part of rotation 18-02 at Fort Polks Joint Readiness Training Center.
British soldiers training at Fort Polk. (KALB)
Last February News Channel 5 caught up with 1st Battalion the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment participating in exercise rattlesnake--a new initiative where soldiers imbed with American troops. It was the first time an entire British battalion, that's up to 800 soldiers, had trained at JRTC.
"You don't really know what's going to happen so you have to constantly think outside of the box," the 1 LANCS Regimental Sergeant Major told KALB's Lydia Magallanes in February.
Exercise Rattlesnake is part of the future of multi-national interoperability.
"Guys, if you can walk you can still fight," Color Sergeant Lewis Royle with the 2nd Battalion the Duke of Lancasters Regiment says while assessing British "casualties." Sensors, or MILES (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) worn by soldiers track who gets "killed," like a game of laser tag but on a much larger scale.
British soldiers like Csgt. Royle continue to marvel at the opposing force made up American soldiers in the 1st battalion 509th Airborne Infantry Regiment--or opfor, for short. They're the ones who play the 'bad guys.'
"The live enemy which is both a challenge to the companies has been really exciting for the lads," said Csgt Royle. He's acting as an OCT, or Observer Controller Trainer to help mentor soldiers during the rotation.
"The rifle companies which is the exercising troops have been day in, day out working with the American troops and learning different ways to plan. It's really good coming to hot places using the skills that we've got in difference countries. Especially with the woods, the forest around here, navigating is really hard and it puts the lads to the test, even at the lower ranks. The training value is next to none out here."
The biggest difference between the two armies combat training is opfor and Csgt Royle says the U.K. plans to take a page out of Americas playbook.
"The Americans use a live enemy (opfor) which is basically giving the enemy free range to do what they want. So when in the U.K. it is sort of planned and controlled a little bit so we control the enemy. I believe in the near future we're actually going to the way the U.S. does it.
And learning from U.S. troops is why Major Paul Mcfarland with the Royal Irish Regiment says the British Army will be sending troops to JRTC four times a year as part of their regular training schedule.
"From communications, tactics, doctrine, understanding and just culture."
But American and British soldiers aren't just training together, they're training each other at JRTC. Maj. Mcfarland is part of an instructor exchange program that has existed for 25 years between the two Armies. The goal is to integrate an entire British battalion with an American brigade and training side by side smoothes out operational differences at every level, from kingsmen and privates to command.
"I feel like we perhaps micromanage and provide more detail in terms of plans than the U.S. Army does and that can be both a strength and a weakness in places. I would say the biggest difference is probably the scale. So the U.S. Army of course is a huge beast. Overall they consider and think one echelon (level) higher than the British army.
The British Army officer has been at Fort Polk for 18 months of his two year obligation. He says it's all about improving the relationship between the coalition forces for current and future operations.
"I've taken away a great respect for the U.S. Army that I didn't have before and a real understanding of how they do business. We are moving from a counter insurgency fight we've been involved in for the last 15 to 20 years and moving back to real contingency, you know, direct action between potentially a near peer or peer threat and that is the threat of the future and if we can do that we can do all other types of warfare I feel.
Valuable lessons and a little fun along the way.
"Personally it's been very rewarding to make some friends and live in Louisiana, live the culture, the Cajun culture, it's been great!" said Maj. McFarland.
The British Army conducts their combat training at facilities in Kenya and Canada. Now they'll be including more rotations at Fort Polk at the battalion level. In the past British and American soldiers has trained at the company (~ 30-100 soldiers) level.