Interesting article -

Local guard members learn how to clear a village

Forget tank on tank combat or jungle warfare. Today's military men and women are fighting in the cities and villages of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beside roadside bombs, soldiers must confront roof-top snipers, break down doors and dislodge bad guys from civilian living rooms.

The military is playing catch-up, trying to prep more of its soldiers for such circumstances before they meet them.

On Monday, 35 of Fredericksburg's Army National Guard members received urban assault training from eight members of Fairfax County's SWAT team. The police officers drilled members of Alpha Company, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion--formerly the 229th Engineer Battalion--in techniques they use in urban (and suburban) scenarios.

It's the latest example of how the war in Iraq is touching the lives of those in Virginia--military and civilian alike.

Alpha Company's leader, Lt. John Hicks, said most of his men were relatively inexperienced in urban warfare, except for "the 25 percent" who have already been overseas. The SWAT team members were teaching his soldiers to breach doors, clear rooms and secure buildings, he said.

"If there's a hostile environment [these days], it will be in an urban environment," Hicks said.

The group trained at Fort Pickett's MOUT, or Military Operation Urban Terrain section. It's a cluster of white concrete buildings built to simulate a neighborhood in Baghdad or Kabul. A manufactured ghost town.

Inside, the SWAT team's Pfc. Lance Guckenberger demonstrated a "hide kit" in an empty room. Fifteen soldiers packed into the tiny space. Two others leaned through an open window to listen.

"Push pins, duck tape and material is all you need," he said.

Guckenberger diagonally slung a mosquito net across the open window and tacked black material to the back walls, effectively darkening the room. He showed the men how to hang that net while minimizing exposure to a potential sniper.

"Say they're on a convoy that hits an IED or rocket. People are injured and while they are waiting for backup, they take a position in a building. With a "hide kit" they can conceal themselves and harden their target," he later explained.

A bit later, SWAT team members demonstrated "dynamic entry" to 29 soldiers seated in a patch of grass outside.

Jeff Finn and Travis Schaney "stacked" next to one another outside a "doorway" marked with rocks and tape. Schaney squeezed Finn's shoulder to indicate he was ready. They swiftly swung into a "room" using measured, crouching steps. They call the movement "the Groucho Marx Walk."

"Police! Get Down!" yelled Finn.

"Police! Get Down!" echoed Schaney.

"Clear right!" yelled Finn, as he scanned a corner of the room with his M-16. "Clear left!" yelled Schaney.

After several demos, the team went inside a dusty building dotted with discarded government-issue furniture.

"Give me four guys," Finn said.

Sgt. James Blakely, Sgt. Dann Villaneuva, Pfc. Kevin Sawyer and Pvt. Ernest Lorson lined up closely to one another, "stacking" with their M-16s outside a door.

Blakely led the charge into the room. Another member was supposed to guard those inside. Finn watched.

"Speedwise, it was a little fast," Finn critiqued afterward. "We gave up the hallway. I like to hold the hallway. From what we've been told, you guys have a day to clear a village sometimes. We get in here and dominate what we've got."

The foursome went at it again, improving their pace, which was more measured. Sawyer held the hallway while the others "cleared the room."

"That's much better," said Finn. Another round. "This time I want to hear you clear the room. Come on! Talk to each other."

Stack. Squeeze. Go.

"Hot Desk!" yelled Blakely. "Hot Bookcase!" yelled Sawyer, jumping onto a chair to peer behind the bookcase, his rifle at the ready.

Doors knocked open and yells filled the building as other teams cleared rooms.

Finn next prepped his squad to clear several rooms with three doors.

They stacked, squeezed and entered the space. They spread out impressively, but Villaneuva had his rifle down as he led his squad through a second door.

Finn critiqued the group. "If I come down on you, it's that you gotta get in the mind-set," he said. "You're the hunter, not the hunted."

Finn asked Villaneuva about his rifle. He always enters an un-secured room with his weapon ready. "That's what I'm feeling on a lousy-ass drug war," he said, noting he didn't know what it was like "over there."

The police officers remained humble while training the unit. They said they were honored to work with the soldiers.

"I respect the job those guys are doing," said Guckenberger, a former Marine. "Hopefully, we can make their job safer and easier so they can all come home."