The quiet might have been the first tip-off that something wasn’t right when the small U.S. military police force entered a mock village in the Bavarian countryside.
But it didn’t last long.
The Fort Riley, Kan.-based military police had walked into what they soon realized was an ambush.
They were among more than 5,000 soldiers from 21 nations participating in Combined Resolve 12, a four-week exercise focused on how well units can quickly respond to crises.
The soldiers faced “near peer” fictitious enemies with modern resources who employ particularly ruthless tactics.
About 30 of the enemy troops, played by U.S. and Bosnian soldiers, waited until allied forces had moved out of the village before they hijacked a bus and, with captured civilians whom they used as human shields, killed the town leadership.
Then, the enemy forces waited inside buildings. When the Army military police arrived, they opened fire.
The good and bad guys used the multiple integrated laser engagement system, or MILES, a training system that uses lasers and blank cartridges to simulate battle.
As they shot at the approaching MPs, other enemies climbed onto the U.S. soldiers’ Humvees and armored personnel carriers and started tossing grenades inside.
The Fort Riley soldiers tried to extricate themselves and look for better positions but found that most of the surrounding streets were strewn with mines.
One of the soldiers caught in the ambush, Capt. Scotty Hernandez, was gunned down when he ran to help several military policemen under heavy fire.
“We heard reports that the enemy was coming this way, but we thought we were going to get here before them,” Hernandez said later. “We didn’t know they already took the town.”
The enemy kept most of the U.S. soldiers pinned down in the center of town and called in an artillery strike that finished off the allied forces. After another skirmish with a U.S. armored convoy that was sent in to investigate what was going on, the enemy fled into the surrounding woods before a larger allied force engaged them.
The enemy forces used these types of hit-and-run tactics during the exercise because soldiers might realistically encounter them in combat, said 1st. Lt. Alexander Herbert, a U.S. adviser to one of the en-emy units, comprised mainly of Bosnian soldiers.
“We make it hard for [the soldiers],” Herbert said. “We do everything we can to test them, and [the Bosnian soldiers] are doing a great job. I’m really impressed with them.”
The addition of “civilians” on the battlefield made it even more challenging for the troops involved, said Maj. Stuart Gallagher, the senior psychological operations trainer.
“In a real battle, you’re not going to have just enemy soldiers and your own soldiers there,” Gallagher said. “We want them to think about how to handle displaced [civilians]”.
The U.S. units being tested in the exercise include the Fort Riley-based 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Ar-mored Brigade Combat Team and 1st Combat Aviation Brigade. Both are here on nine-month rotations as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the ongoing mission to deter further Russian aggression follow-ing its annexation of part of Ukraine in 2014.
The war games are set to continue until the end of the month.