, Muskogee, OK

May 26, 2010

Coming in with a bang: Guardsmen train for Afghanistan deployment

By Keith Purtell
Phoenix Staff Writer

— CAMP GRUBER — The sounds of explosions going off and soldiers shouting as they practiced clearing out a build rang through the air Wednesday.

The U.S. Army National Guard exercises were in preparation for eventual deployment to Afghanistan.

First, the demolitions training allowed soldiers to use special explosives to blast open windows and doors in a simulated village. It consisted of a row of nine wooden windows and nine wooden doors that were destroyed in separate exercises.

Lt. Col. Mike Kinnison said his soldiers’ work is essential to learn the skills to properly set off charges.

“The guys out here provide mobility training, counter-mobility and survivability operations for the brigade commander,” he said. “This would be the mobility part. It is breaching obstacles, creating holes, so the infantry can go in and do their thing.”

Kinnison said his soldiers work hard to fulfill their instructions.

“I’ve got 60 men out here today,” he said. “Basically, my battalion has all the neat toys in it. We do these kinds of exercises once a year. All these guys are combat engineers. Part of being a combat engineer is demolitions. We have guys that have had specialized combat training who can come here and pass that knowledge on.”

One of the soldiers setting off charges, Sgt. Jay Ellison said he joined the guard because of his unique interests.

“I always had the ambition to fly helicopters, and after high school I started going to college at the University of Oklahoma,” he said. “The pay in the guard was good, so eventually it just turned into a career. I’ve always had a knack of tinkering with things and destroying things. The idea of using explosives to destroy something really caught my attention.”

Ellison said his role during the day’s exercises was to make sure proper procedures were followed.

“I’m out here today as a squad leader,” he said. “I’m in charge of these 10 other guys. Mainly I supervise and make sure they’re setting things up correctly, make sure they place everything in sequence and that the charges are where they are supposed to be placed.”

The exercise designed to clear buildings and houses of insurgents and weapons was held in a simulated house, said Lt. Gregory Bunce.

“What we’re doing here today is doing military operations in an urban terrain setting,” he said. “We have a simulated village here and we have another site similar to this that is a larger city that gives us a simulated environment where we can train urban operations effectively.”

Bunce said the infantrymen doing the exercise aim to improve their work as a team.

“What the soldiers are doing here is developing their individual and collective tasks as an individual, and as a squad and as a platoon to be able to enter and secure a small building or even cordon and search a small village,” Bunce said.

Specialist Brent Fletcher said he got interested in his tasks because of the teamwork involved.

“I just always wanted to do something fun and exciting, and this company was ready to do it,” he said. “I enjoy clearing the buildings, kicking in doors, just showing authority.”

Fletcher described the procedure for checking a house to see if it’s safe.

“We have a front man, second man, third man, fourth man,” he said. “Usually the last one comes in front and kicks in the door then everybody rushes in with guns up ready to shoot. We perform as if the enemy were right there pointing at us. When one room is clear we just keep moving to the next room until the whole house is clear. This work is really patriotic for me. That’s probably the one thing I love about it. I love what the U.S. flag stands for.”

Reach Keith Purtell at 684-2925 or