MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII --
Stacked chest to back against a cold steel wall, nine soldiers stood poised, their eyes fixed on the Kevlar helmet directly in front of them. As they awaited their squad leader’s signal to begin clearing the house, they remained silent, though aggressive stances and forcible grips on their rifles loudly proclaimed their adrenaline would soon translate into action. Only one obstacle — a blood-red wooden door — separated them from their mission.
Joining their unit from the Islands of American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii and Saipan, soldiers with the Army’s renowned 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment, practiced clearing the modular armored tactical combat house, or “shoot house,” at the Kaneohe Bay Range Training Facility on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, June 21, 2011.
The training evolution was part of the reserve infantry battalion’s annual training package conducted both here and on Schofield Barracks from June 13 to June 30.
As the Echo Company soldiers waited near the range with their tents, gear and field rations, the blazing heat gave way to pouring rain, re-soaking the dirtied soldiers before they had the chance to dry following the last downpour.
Awaiting their turn in the shoot house, teams of soldiers practiced moving through an open maze of cinder blocks positioned outside, a “glass house” mocking the layout of the building. Though they would clear the shoot house with blanks and live rounds later, their present task focused on improving the team’s communication and synching their movements.
“Once the soldiers validate they can work safely as a group and show proficiency in the building blocks, then we move into the shoot house, where we’re firing in close proximity,” Army 1st Lt. Michael Murphy, executive officer, Echo Co., 110-442, said.
Finally, their time came. On his squad leader’s command, the point man smashed his boot into the door, sending it swinging open as his team rushed in. Geared up and vocal, they shouted back and forth, one giving and one receiving the order to clear the first room on the left.
“This training is designed to help the soldiers develop their flow,” Murphy said. “We’re making coherent teams so they know each other well enough to flow smoothly in a kinetic battle.”
As the infantrymen moved in with weapons raised, their boots shuffled across the floor, the noisy scratching swallowed up by their focused bellowing. They secured the room, called out casualties and only seconds later, exited and moved on to the next.
“Any house we go into in an urban environment is a variable we need to adapt to,” Army Spc. Christopher Duenas, a squad automatic weapon gunner with Echo Co., 110-442, said. “There are guidelines, but there isn’t a specific way to clear the house. What matters is that our teams know what to do, regardless of which house they enter.”
Once the house was cleared, the squad leader gave his team the command to exit the house. Walking away from the shoot house, he analyzed his team’s performance, encouraging them to communicate and maintain an awareness of their surroundings. Minutes later, they would run through the shoot house again, followed by the next team.
Amidst the hectic operation, team leader Army Sgt. Peter Terlaje confused the phrasing for friend and foe, but being in a training environment allowed him to quickly mend the mistake. Conversing with his squad leader, Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Galang, he thanked Galang for correcting his wrong.
Nodding in response, Galang said, “That’s how we survive, brother.”
Beginning with cinder blocks and moving into a steel-encased house, the soldiers’ excursion from simple to complex worked to develop their skills and bolster their confidence in preparation for a possible 2012 deployment.
“We have advanced tactics and techniques, but when bullets start flying, our reactions bring us back to the basics,” Duenas said. “Anyone can look at the layout of a house, but physically entering is different from just thinking about it — you don’t know exactly what else is in there. Practicing here helps us build the basics and allows us to become flexible to make adjustments.”