Army shows off new training facilities for Stryker Brigade

Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) There's a new 1,800-square-foot house going up at Fort Richardson, but the Army doesn't expect any permanent tenants.

By next June, bullets will be whizzing inside as soldiers use the seven-room ''shoot house'' to learn how to clear a building of enemy combatants.

Army officials Tuesday showed off new training facilities for the incoming Stryker Brigade to demonstrate why they're ramping up security. Trails on Army land leading from the east Anchorage neighborhood of Muldoon bring bikers, skiers and berry pickers dangerously close to new shooting ranges.

Among the other training facilities under construction: an urban assault course down a simulated city street, an underground sewer system, complete with lifelike odors, and a breach facility, where soldiers train to enter a building some way other than the door with explosives.

Also under construction is an ''after-action review'' complex, where soldiers and trainers can review video recordings of some exercises and discuss what could have gone better.

''They provide an opportunity for training we just haven't had,'' said George Alexion, installation range officer, who oversees training areas in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Delta Junction.

Stryker Brigades are named for the Army's eight-wheel Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle, an armored, armed troop carrier designed as bridge between heavy armor and light infantry. The highly mobile vehicles carry computer technology that enables troops to view the enemy over wide areas of a battlefield. The vehicles come in a dozen configurations, from air defense and infantry support to engineer and medical service.

The Davis Range Complex at Fort Richardson is getting an $18 million facelift. The facilities under construction in Anchorage will not be used in the firing of the Stryker's largest weapons, such as a 105mm cannon, but rather the small arms that soldiers carry.

''This is the crawl stage of the big picture,'' said Lindsay Fleshman, who has overseen Fort Richardson's firing ranges for 22 years. After completing training here at the individual and squad level, soldiers will train with vehicles and larger groups at the Delta Training Area, he said.

At Fort Richardson, they will encounter the shoot house, to be constructed with bullet-trapping material, thick rubber padding and titanium-steel to make sure bullets don't fly out of the building or ricochet.

The simulated street, about 80 yards long, is nicknamed ''Dodge City''

''It replicates what they might find in an urban environment,'' Alexion said.

A few feet away were concrete pipes that will make up the simulated sewer system. The pipes will be covered with soil and appear as a low mound. Troops can walk or crawl through about 300 yards of pipe.

''A common task might be to map out the underground area,'' Alexion said.

Odors injected into the pipes everything from mom's apple pie to what's usually found in sewers will make the experience more real for a soldier.

''He has to deal with the full spectrum of the unknown,'' Alexion said.

The Army is considering a 6-foot-high chain-link and barbed-wire fence to block off the land from unauthorized visitors. That has brought objections from hundreds of Anchorage residents who are used to easy access on Army land to walk dogs, ski and mountain bike.

Trespassers are a huge imposition for training, said public affairs officer Maj. Ben Danner. Before a live round is fired, the Army sends out patrols to make sure no visitors are present and posts guards to keep them out. If a trespasser is spotted, all firing comes to a halt.

''All the time we're doing that, our resources are not committed to training soldiers,'' he said.

Danner said Fort Richardson has reduced its size from 150,000 acres to 60,000 acres over the last 50 years and the remaining acres are needed for training.

A public meeting on the environmental assessment of the fence was scheduled for Wednesday night.

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