Soldiers describe experience

From The Daily Union, January 5, 2003:

By LINDA GILMORE
The Daily Union
FORT RILEY — When you’re in battle, you can’t go back for something you’ve forgotten.

This advice comes from Maj. William Lukaskiewicz, support operations officer for the 101st Forward Support Battalion of the First Brigade at Fort Riley.

Lukaskiewicz was a 2nd lieutenant and platoon leader during the Gulf War. His platoon of 42 was a medical unit in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and included doctors, physician assistants, medics and a dentist. They followed the manuever forces and provided medical support.

Lukaskiewicz and Col. Bart Howard, the operations officer for the 24th Infantry Division (Mech.) at Fort Riley, are among Fort Riley’s current leaders who served the Army in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. Now with Desert Storm behind them, they are trying to pass on the knowledge from that experience to younger soldiers at Fort Riley, who face the possibility of another war in the Persian Gulf.

Lukaskiewicz said that when the orders came in September 1991 to go to the Persian Gulf, for Operation Desert Shield, his unit was already preparing to go to the National Training Center, at Fort Irwin in California, from Fort Bliss, Texas. Fort Bliss, like Fort Riley, has a large training area, except Fort Bliss is in the desert near El Paso.

“A lot of the same conditions we experienced in El Paso … were the same conditions we would experience out in Saudi Arabia,” Lukaskiewicz said.

But there were some differences. When training, you can go back and get items you’ve forgotten, though it’s noted on the training evaluation. But once the troops were in Saudi Arabia, if you left it behind, it stayed behind.

Another lesson: “The equipment you train with is the equipment you fight with,” Lukaskiewicz said.

The notion that you will have new equipment when you deploy is mistaken, he said.

“What you train with now is what you go to fight with,” he said. “You’ve got to feel very comfortable with what you have and your ability to sustain it, and that equipment includes yourself.”

That lesson was brought home to him when he got off the plane in Saudi Arabia.

“When we arrived and the plane landed and we got off the plane, it was almost like a blast furnace. The door of the plane opened, you got off and thought, ‘It’s just really hot here,'” Lukaskiewicz said.

“The first thing I did when I arrived in Saudi Arabia was drink two one-liter bottles of water.”

Everyone did.

The Army learned from that experience. Lukaskiewicz said that when he helped Howard deploy earlier this year to Operation Desert Spring, they handed the troops a one-gallon jug of water to drink on the way, to start hydrating before they arrived in the desert.

Lukaskiewicz also talked about the importance of learning how to keep your clothes clean. You’ve only got so many uniforms and other items. The packing list all soldiers must follow has been developed to reflect things learned before. Army troops took five uniforms when they deployed in 1991, and now soldiers are told to take seven, for example.

“Soldiers have to understand you’ve really got to follow those packing lists, and if you’re supposed to take something, there’s a reason you’re supposed to take it,” Lukaskiewicz said. If you leave things behind, there won’t be a PX in the desert.

Lukaskiewicz emphasized that soldiers preparing for deployment are all being given the same basic advice: Make sure all your personal affairs are in order — your family’s taken care of and your finances are solid.

“There’s a plan to take care of all those things you’re going to leave behind so that you or your unit doesn’t become consumed with what you left,” he said. “And those are things that leaders talk to soldiers about every day.”

He also encouraged soldiers to take advantage of every training opportunity that comes their way and they need to keep on training after deployment.

The value of training can’t be emphasized enough, Howard said.

Howard was a captain during the Gulf War. He was a commander of a company with the 2nd Armored Division. His company comprised 70 soldiers and 14 M1-A1 Abrams tanks and was attached to a Marine Corps division. They had been based at Fort Hood, Texas, before being deployed to Saudi Arabia.

“We had trained very hard. We had trained at Fort Hood. We had trained to such an extent that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves,” Howard said. “We had trained at night, while we were very tired. We stressed ourselves. Then when we went to the desert in Saudi Arabia, for Desert Shield, we continued to train.”

Their training continued to adhere to Army standards while in the desert, he said, so they were training very realistically. When combat started, his unit crossed into Kuwait and attacked the Iraqis there.

“After this was done, we said our training really paid off,” Howard said, “because we did things in the heat of the moment that we had practiced during training, so that things became second nature. And that was our goal all the time. Training is a rehearsal for combat.”

He said that training under all kinds of adverse conditions, as the Army continues to do, prepared them well for combat.

“We were surprised, when it was complete, that in some ways it wasn’t as difficult as we had thought it might be,” Howard said. “We moved faster, we were far superior to the Iraqi forces in training and equipment than we had imagined.”

They weren’t expecting an easy fight. He said he was very proud of how readily the soldiers went into battle and how disciplined they were.

Perhaps the biggest difference between training and battle is the level of intensity, Howard said. Soldiers get pumped up for training at Fort Riley, and even more at the NTC. But that was nothing compared with the experience of battle.

“When we were in Kuwait, there’s this level of intensity that we all had not experienced that we sensed would be there, but, boy, it really kicks in when you say, ‘Tomorrow we’re going to be fighting a force. This is not lasers. This is not an exercise. They’re going to try to kill us. And we are going to fight them,'” Howard said. “Obviously there’s an intensity at that point. But it’s a very positive thing because people just took this to another level.”

That combat experience reinforced something Howard said he told his men that would hold true today, too — the importance of every individual’s contribution to the overall effort.

“If you look to your left and right, look to the guy who’s standing next to you, you will have to rely on those people in the next 24, 48 hours, whenever we go to combat. There are as many people who are going to rely on you to do your job. There is no job too small that it doesn’t make a difference,” Howard said.

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