16 June Washington Times - Baghdad on the Bayou
by David Axe.
A combat readiness training center at this remote base in Louisiana once prepared U.S. soldiers for infantry gunbattle with Soviet forces. These days, the focus of the training is fighting insurgents in crowded Iraqi villages with cultural sensitivity and limiting civilian casualties.
A cluster of fabricated neighborhoods represents Iraq's chaotic urban battlefield. Combat brigades numbering as many as 5,000 soldiers spend three weeks living and fighting there.
Aggressive paratroopers trained in insurgent tactics prowl the swamps. Actors and local residents wearing Middle Eastern-style clothing stand in for Iraqi civilians. Iraqi expatriates play the roles of tribal leaders and town mayors. Combatants and civilians alike wear vests that detect lasers beamed by modified weapons that fire noisy blanks. Pyrotechnics specialists add smoke and explosions to simulate improvised explosive devices. Combat veteran "observer-controllers" referee clashes among trainees, "insurgents" and restive civilians.
Soldiers have complained that training at Fort Polk's Joint Readiness Training Center is harder than combat in Iraq. Center commander Brig. Gen. Michael Barbero says that is the point.
"We want their worst day to be at Fort Polk and not in Baghdad." ...