- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

FORT JACKSON, S.C. — “Don’t stop! Keep moving!” Staff Sgt. Dennis Wisner shouts at four recruits racing for cover. They have been caught in the open by an enemy sniper. Firing and moving, they dash behind a small building.

Sgt. Wisner’s voice booms over the “pop, pop, pop” of M-16 blank fire and Muslim calls to prayers echoing from a nearby mosque.

“Use your weapon,” he shouts at one young soldier who hesitates before returning fire.

A year ago, this might have been a full-blown infantry or special operations training exercise at Fort Benning, Ga., or Fort Bragg, N.C. Today, an overhaul of training has made it standard fare for all U.S. Army recruits, including at Fort Jackson, where the service prepares enlistees to become cooks, bakers, Humvee mechanics and supply clerks and to fill other support roles.

“These soldiers are going to war,” Capt. Mark Kaschenbach, a training company commander at Fort Jackson said. “We tell them they’re going to Iraq 30 days after AIT [advanced individual training]. So we’re giving them a taste of what may save their lives.”

Lt. Col. Allen D. Reece agrees, adding that once deployed, not being in a combat arms unit does not mean not being in combat.

“Regardless of your MOS [military occupational specialty], anyone in Iraq or Afghanistan may find themselves in direct contact with the enemy,” he said. “There have been cooks in Iraq who have had to man checkpoints and conduct urban combat operations. They’ve gone out on patrols.”

Support troops have a long history of shoring up combat units when numbers temporarily drop from casualties, illnesses and nonbattle injuries, transfers, rotations back to home bases, or just giving the gunfighters a much-needed rest.

But in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the front lines are blurred, combat support forces are often struck first by insurgents who prefer hitting soft military targets, such as convoys and combat support units, as opposed to hard targets, such as infantry units and special operations forces. For that reason alone, training at Fort Jackson — which trains only support soldiers — has been ratcheted up several notches, and it’s paying off in lives saved.

Insurgents today are learning that striking any American unit — combat arms or not — can be costly, Col. Reece said.

“Nearly 40 percent of all our drill sergeants have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Col. Tom Hayden, Fort Jackson’s deputy commander.

Sgt. Wisner is one of them. He recently returned from Iraq where he served as a combat infantry leader.

“You see the weapon! Shoot! That’s the enemy,” Sgt. Winser instructs his recruits while fine-tuning their movements through every doorway of every room in each building.

Taking a page from the Marine Corps playbook, Army recruits at Fort Jackson now carry the rifle within the first 48 hours of basic training.

Prior to the Dec. 2004-Jan. 2005 period, recruits here did not handle weapons until marksmanship training in the third week.

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