By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 14, 2008 - Technology is critical to countering roadside and car bombs and to attacking terrorist networks that emplace them, but a big part of the solution boils down to good, old-fashioned training, the new director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization said. Army Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz has built a 36-year career training soldiers, most recently as deputy commander and chief of staff for the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, at Fort Monroe, Va. Since taking the reins of the joint organization tasked with tackling the IED threat, Metz has focused heavily on the training element he said brings together the other aspects of the counter-IED equation.
"The strength of my background is training soldiers, and I think we can make great headway here," Metz told Pentagon reporters during a roundtable interview yesterday.
Metz pointed to the proposed $591.3 million budget for fiscal 2009 dedicated to training the force for the IED fight. This funding, split between JIEDDO's base budget and supplemental funding, will go toward enhancing counter-IED training and building on initiatives already under way.
That training is critical at all levels -- from junior-grade troops who learn how to identify and thwart IEDs during their operations to their leaders who piece together intelligence to identify the terror networks that fund, build and emplace them, Metz said.
"It's one thing to train individual soldiers to use a device, and we are certainly getting about doing that, but it is the collective training of the leader pulling together so that the total is greater than the sum of the parts," he said. "And that's what the enhancing the collective training does."
Metz said he's committed to improving the way troops train to fight IEDS, from developing more realistic training environments for troops preparing to deploy to enhancing in-theater training. "A very real training environment is key," he said.
He praised the counter-IED training troops receive at the Udairi Range in Kuwait before moving north into Iraq and said JIEDDO is funding similar training efforts being established in Afghanistan. But Metz said he wants to boost pre-deployment training, too, so troops arrive in theater with the best counter-IED training possible already under their belts.
Toward that end, JIEDDO invested about $150 million last year in the Joint Center of Excellence, with headquarters at the National Training Center, at Fort Irwin, Calif., to support counter-IED training. The center operates through service-specific training centers at Fort Irwin; Twentynine Palms, Calif.; Indian Head, Md.; and Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to train servicemembers in counter-IED tactics and equipment currently found in the combat theaters and in conditions mirroring those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To help bring realism to that training, Metz said, JIEDDO is turning to the amusement and gaming industry to come up with ways to replicate an IED attack. It helped fund the installation of a cellular phone system at the National Training Center so troops there could train against an "enemy" using cell phones to launch IED attacks.
JIEDDO also built a replica of an Iraqi home at the NTC, where troops can fine-tune their search techniques so they're better able to identify IED makers and factories during patrols.
"We want to train soldiers in search techniques -- not just walk in and look, (but in) the high-level search techniques that a very skilled investigator would do if they walked into an apartment in Pentagon City," he said. "So we go through the academic and thinking part of that instruction, and then we have the practical environment for them to train in those skills to search."
Metz said he wants to ensure troops know exactly what to look for during patrols. "If someone has been making a homemade explosive, they have been working with acid, and most likely their hands are going to be stained. And nitric acid comes in black two-liter bottles," he said. "So if you're searching, and you find the owner of the home has got stained hands and in the backyard garbage can are black bottles of nitric acid, you probably have a bomb-maker."
JIEDDO wants to extend more training, not just to troops who run patrols and traverse roadways, but also to their battalion- and brigade-level commanders focused on identifying and taking down IED networks, Metz said.
"At the staff level, it goes back to this understanding (and) using the tools and capturing the data that help you put together that network and understand the parts and know when to attack," he said.
He noted that although the rules of engagement authorize troops to attack when they find someone planting an IED, they may in some cases choose to alert other friendly forces to the threat, then wait and watch. By following the person who emplaced the bomb with persistent reconnaissance and surveillance, troops might be able to put together more pieces of the network.
Other key JIEDDO training initiatives include:
-- Electronic warfare training to prepare deploying forces for electromagnetic spectrum operations in the theater;
-- A senior mentor program that provides retired, senior general officers to mentor trainers and units in counter-IED operations before deployment;
-- Enhanced home-station training support, including more force-on-force collective training at combat training centers and service centers of excellence;
-- Tactical training support, offered through a joint expeditionary team that advises and mentors units from platoon to division level on aspects of the counter-IED fight;
-- International and interagency engagement, including efforts to promote sharing and interoperability among coalition partners in Iraq and Afghanistan; and
-- Coalition and partner training, with 18 nations receiving IED defeat training in Europe and in combat theaters before serving in U.S.-led coalitions.
Metz said these training initiatives will go a long way toward strengthening the fight against IEDs. "Training will make a huge difference," he said.