British troops talk about combat training at Fort Polk
British soldiers in the 1st Battalion Duke of Lancasters Infantry Regiment stock up on ammo, paint their faces or grab a quick bite ahead of their next simulated mission at Fort Polk's Joint Readiness Training Center, Wednesday afternoon. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Driver, the battalion's Commanding Officer, has been in the British Army for 16 years but this is his first time at JRTC.
"The environment makes it difficult enough without the opfor (Opposition Force, 1st 509th Airborne Infantry Regiment) out there as well. It's really an opportunity for us as a British battalion to embed within a U.S. brigade and to ease out some of the challenges of interoperability, both the human, technical and procedural challenges.
Although the British Army has similar combat training in Kenya, Regimental Sergeant Major Thomas Whittingham says the spontaneous scenarios caused by the opposition force, or American soldiers in the 1st 509th, keep British troops on high alert.
"You don't really know what's going to happen, so you've got to constantly think outside the box which is really good for my soldiers as well."
Sgt. Maj. Whittingham is also impressed by JRTC's air operations or various aircraft that fly around the training area.
"It's making us think of our locations. For instance, you can't just park on the side of the road you need to be coming in like we are now: looking at cover, camouflaging your vehicles up and again it just brings that whole reality (to it). It really does feel real."
Both soldiers have worked with American troops on deployments throughout their careers. Lt. Col. Driver says learning to overcome operational differences between British and American troops is vital to successful missions.
"They are our closest ally. We've worked as a coalition now for the past 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we don't train together now and get used to working together, when we do deploy together, those hurdles are just so ever higher."
While the U.S. Army has a regiment, the 509th, dedicated to soldiers playing the enemy, British Army units, take turns playing the opposition force.