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Profile: U.S. Troops In Kuwait Training For Urban Warfare

All Things Considered: February 3, 2003

U.S. Troops Train for Urban Warfare


The growing US military force assembling in Kuwait is busy honing its war fighting skills, and parts of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division are practicing what some military planners say they fear most: house-to-house fighting in Iraq cities. In the Kuwaiti desert, the Army has built a combat town out of wood to train soldiers for such urban warfare. NPR's Eric Westervelt observed the Charlie Company of the Army's 315th Infantry regiment and sent this report.



Army infantrymen crouch against a wooden wall readying to line up--or `stack' as they call it--tightly on the side of a Bradley. The armored fighting machine enters the narrow streets dotted with makeshift wooden homes.


Unidentified Man #1: Bill...

BILL: Yeah!

Unidentified Man #1: ...don't forget when the track runs up, we're going to stack on you.

BILL: What?

Unidentified Man #1: We're going to stack on you!


WESTERVELT: Soldiers have trouble removing a roadblock, one of the only street obstacles they face. Indeed, this training city, a flat, hot desert, is a bit deceiving. There are no high tension wires, sewer passages, gas lines, basement windows or rooftops, all potentially deadly danger spots for soldiers in the urban fight. Working in small teams with snipers and machine gunners covering them, the soldiers begin to secure the buildings one at a time.

Unidentified Man #2: OK. Stop right here. Stop right here. Get ready to move.


WESTERVELT: The room-to-room assault is going smoothly, but then Command Sergeant Major Bob Gallagher, one of the trainers, sees another mistake. The Bradley driver has stopped right underneath the window of a two-story building before it was secure. Soon the infantry take a knee around the gruff former Special Forces soldier, who sprinkles his lessons with anecdotes from his urban combat experiences in Somalia, Panama and elsewhere. One time, he recalls, a tank halted too close to a window and was done in by a little gasoline.

Command Sergeant Major BOB GALLAGHER (US Army): Multistoried area, dropped a Molotov cocktail on it, more gasoline and the crew burnt alive. How long does it take someone to drop a milk jug full of gas on fire from a third-floor window onto the top of a tank? It don't take long. OK. It's real life; it's not fun and games. People die around tanks. People die around Bradleys if their head is not on a swivel.

WESTERVELT: To shouts of the common Army refrain `Hoo-ha,' this day's other training commander, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Twitty, tells the humbled soldiers to go back and try it again.

Lieutenant Colonel STEPHEN TWITTY (US Army): You guys just got a mouthful today.

Group of Soldiers: (In unison) Hoo-ha.

WESTERVELT: Back at the entrance to the city, the commanders have once again thrown a roadblock, literally, in the path of the armored fighting vehicles. Blocking the road is a big, twisted piece of metal axle with wheels.


WESTERVELT: Once again, the Bradley rams fruitlessly against the metal truck carcass unable to push it out of the way. Some soldiers look confused, hesitant and unsure what to do next. Sergeant Major Gallagher is not happy.

Command Sgt. Maj. GALLAGHER: You could be stupid once, you could be stupid twice. The second time, I'm going to start thinking about the gene pool that you (censored) came from.

WESTERVELT: With the air of an annoyed parent, Lieutenant Colonel Twitty later tells the infantrymen to return to obstacle removal school(ph).

Lt. Col. TWITTY: Platoon sergeant, how many guys you got in your platoon?

Unidentified Man #3: Thirty-four and one, sir.

Lt. Col. TWITTY: There are 35 minds here. All you guys put your minds together and figure out how you're going to breach that one little obstacle there. Because guess what? Think if this town was bigger; it probably would be several obstacles. OK? Hoo-ha.

Group of Soldiers: (In unison) Hoo-ha.

WESTERVELT: Twenty-one-year-old Sergeant Larry Owens, a Bradley gunner, says his unit has trained extensively for desert combat. But before this, he says, they haven't spent much time preparing for an urban fight.

Sergeant LARRY OWENS (US Army): We usually do more jungle and open-desert warfare. This is a big learning curve. It's a lot more difficult to actually have to maneuver with buildings and actually knocking combatants and stuff like that back on the war ground.

WESTERVELT: Distinguishing combatants from civilians in a city could prove one of the biggest challenges the US Army faces in Iraq. In this training zone, most rooms have friend and foe targets painted on wood figures to replicate humans. When soldiers stack tightly against each other, enter a room, they have to make a split-second decision whether to shoot or not. Command Sergeant Gallagher says he teaches his soldiers to protect the civilian population as much as possible, but he admits it's tough.

Command Sgt. Maj. GALLAGHER: Every building is an obstacle. Every wall is an obstacle, every fence, you know, and you just don't know what's on the other side of it until you get there. Not all of them--the civilian population, for the most part, they're not combatants, and the morals and the values that the American people demand of us say that we're just not going to go into an urban area and spray and slay.

WESTERVELT: 1st Platoon Charlie Company finally finds a solution to the roadblock dilemma. They pull it aside after hitching a cable mounted on the Bradley.


WESTERVELT: The rest of the city assault moves almost flawlessly. A tank races through the secured streets and fires into the desert.


WESTERVELT: The dilapidated wood city is finally secure. Lieutenant Colonel Twitty congratulates 1st Platoon on a job well done.

Lt. Col. TWITTY: If you guys think back to this morning when we first did this, you guys think you've come a long way?

Group of Soldiers: (In unison) Hoo-ha!

Lt. Col. TWITTY: Doggone right. That was a great job. OK? You guys see how putting it all together, incorporating tanks, Bradleys, this mighty instrument--see how that works?

Group of Soldiers: (In unison) Hoo-ha!

Lt. Col. TWITTY: You ought to be proud of yourselves.

WESTERVELT: These soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division have been in Kuwait since September, training in the open desert and now training in something resembling urban terrain. Twenty-year-old Specialist David Fisher says, confidently, `We're the best trained and most ready we'll be in our careers.' They may soon get a chance to prove it. Eric Westervelt, NPR News, with the Army's 315th Infantry, Kuwait.

NORRIS: To see pictures of the troops training in Kuwait, go to our Web site,

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