Only a year in the Army with no combat experience, Pvt. 2nd Class Ivan Zubia was trained on saving a life Thursday during a mock attack with daisy-chained roadside bombs and small arms fire.
As his convoy rolled along a dusty road in the South African bush, a series of bombs exploded and sent chunks of red dirt and smoke into the air. South African soldiers playing insurgents then began to use the line of Humvees and cargo trucks as target practice with blanks and simulated grenades.
In the convoy’s rear vehicle, the 21-year-old private with 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment was about to get his first taste of a complex enemy attack. The scenario, among many others, was part of Shared Accord, a two-week exercise that enhances the peacekeeping capabilities of U.S. and African forces.
“I got my weapon ready [and] I said to myself, ‘this is about to get real,'” said Zubia, of El Paso, Texas.
With the convoy stopped, his vehicle rushed up to a disabled cargo truck that had been hit by one of the bombs. Zubia and another Soldier jumped out and provided security as bursts of gunfire from both sides rattled off. The pair was then told to move on to an unexpected challenge: to treat a Soldier with a mock chest wound he suffered from the blast.
“I never been that close to combat, so it felt pretty real,” Zubia said of the training. “Now I have more of an idea of what I’m going to be dealing with.”
Sgt. Matthew Graham, who drove the convoy’s lead vehicle, has great respect for the real thing. He survived six roadside bomb attacks while deployed to Iraq in 2010-11 and now shares his knowledge to Soldiers in the unit.
An 88M, or Army truck driver, Graham said that convoys are often the main targets in combat since they’re the lifeline for operations.
“You’re on Highway 1 with all the [improvised explosive devices], with all the rounds getting shot at you and you’re still making the mission happen,” said the 29-year-old sergeant from Lyons, Nebraska.
Realistic training events such as this one, which put a lot of stress on new Soldiers, better prepare them for when an actual attack occurs, he said.
“It gets their blood running and the adrenaline moving,” Graham said. “But the biggest thing with training like this is to teach them they just need to focus on the mission and not focus on being blown up.”
The loud explosions and gunfire, along with a few other surprises, had Zubia and other young Soldiers puzzled at times.
When Zubia reached the wounded Soldier, he started to patch him up. Then Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Martin, one of the event’s observer-controllers, threw a curveball and asked him to request a nine-line medical evacuation, which details the extent of injuries and conditions at the pick-up site.
“All of a sudden they said you need to get in there and call this nine-line medevac,” Zubia said. “I kind of knew how to do it but i didn’t know what was included in all of the lines so I was just nervous and I didn’t want to mess up.”
Martin, who oversees training events at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Germany, pulled out his nine-line medevac card and showed it to the private to help him.
“I put him on the spot,” said Martin, 40, of Brandon, Florida. “You never want to be in a situation and give that answer [of not knowing].”
With an opposing force played by South African soldiers, the attack brought even more confusion to some of the Americans. “It’s a whole different military. They don’t think our doctrine,” Martin said. “[The U.S. Soldiers] had no idea what they were going to do.”
While today’s Army has placed more emphasis on force-on-force training to stay ahead of near peer adversaries, Martin said, the IED training is still helpful for Soldiers who haven’t been to combat and lived through those attacks.
“To me, that’s who is going to get the most out of it,” he said.
As for the young private, Martin said that Thursday’s training will be a game-changer for him.
“I know he’s going to go home and work on his nine-line medevac,” he said. “He’ll never have that happen again. I guarantee it.”
Now mindful of his room for improvement, Zubia agreed.
“That whole [attack] is really going to stick with me,” he said. “I’m going to be more aware now with what’s going to happen next.”