As the sun sets on a brisk Saturday afternoon lead scout truck gunner, Spc. Jeffrey Sanchez, 3rd Platoon, 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division prepares his equipment before a night route reconnaissance mission. He is hoping he will have the opportunity to mix it up with opposition forces rumored to be in the area although no one has reported enemy contact all day.
As if the M240B machine gun mounted to the turret isn’t enough firepower, he performs a routine functions check on his M4 rifle while the rest of his squad gets water and warms up their MREs (meals ready to eat). He isn’t the my-recruiter-tricked-me kind of guy. He knew exactly what he was getting himself into when he joined the cavalry. He wanted to serve in a combat military occupational specialty and the danger associated with the job sounded appealing.
“We find which positions we can use to our advantage by identifying key points of defense to prepare for an enemy attack,” Sanchez said as he continued to inspect his equipment. “We’re expecting to get heavy contact while we’re searching for the enemy.”
Having already served one combat tour in Iraq, Sanchez treats the Joint Access Operational Exercise “Falcon Thrust” like it’s the real thing. On the heels of a forcible entry, airborne assault into an enemy controlled field landing strip and subsequent non-combatant evacuation operation of American citizens stranded in the notional country, he enjoys the opportunity to train in preparation for any possible mission as part of the 82nd Airborne Division’s Global Response Force.
“We can fight if we have to but we are mainly gathering information on the enemy,” said Capt. Christopher Young, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, commander. “We go and gather intelligence for the brigade commander so he can better maneuver his infantry battalions.”
Finding the enemy is often a very time consuming process that doesn’t always lead to instant results. A cavalry troop may be in an area for several days before locating the enemy force. While they’re out looking, they must always be mindful that the enemy is looking, for them as well.
“We’re watching specific areas for enemy activity,” Young said. “Our maneuver troops have been pushing out trying to find the enemy all day and night. We’re trying to find them before they find us.”
Once the enemy is located, the scouts have a variety of options. They can continue to observe if undetected, call for close air support, artillery support, or request mortar support from their internal mortar assets. In addition, the troop uses improvised obstacles to slow the advancing enemy forces while establishing inconspicuous passage points to swiftly reach their larger defensive element.
So far, despite hours of searching, the scouts have yet to find the enemy but they’re determined to keep searching no matter how long it takes.
Meanwhile, the Soldiers of Troop A’s mortar team knows all about patience, having to wait until someone spots the enemy before they get into the action. Tucked away in a secluded wooded observation post, Cpl. Robert Ward has the huge task of keeping his young mortar team gainfully employed until they receive a call for fire.
For this exercise he has some big shoes to fill serving as the acting platoon sergeant while the platoon sergeant is in Senior Leaders Course.
Despite being the most junior of noncommissioned officers, the young corporal has earned the respect and admiration of his less experienced team. He uses the down time to mentor his young squad and improve their ability to provide timely, accurate, and deadly mortar fire to save lives.
“Your buddies are dying!” Ward said in a stern voice to a member of his team. “Every second you take, the more people are going to die. Hurry up!”
Despite having the team pay with push-ups for mistakes such as being a few degrees off, making the wrong elevation adjustments, or just being too slow, the mortar men seemed to enjoy racing the clock trying to be a few seconds faster than what is considered expert time.
“We do drills all the time,” said Pvt. 1st Class Leo Wang. “It’s good to get some hands-on experience in case the real thing ever happens.”
It’s important to use time wisely and take advantage of any opportunity to train, Ward said.
“We’re training exactly the way we fight,” Young said. “What we’re doing is exactly what we’d do if we jumped into enemy territory.”