Skip to comments.The Army's Most Hated Unit
Posted on 07/06/2004 5:55:51 AM PDT by Key West Girl
The Army's Most Hated Unit
July 6, 2004
They've been called the most-hated unit in the Army - the 1st Battalion of the 509th Infantry - known as the Geronimoes.
The Geronimoes are tasked with playing the "enemy" at the Army's Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La., putting visiting infantry and special operations troops through their paces.
Recently, that has meant playing Iraqi insurgents and terrorists - an enemy whose rocket attacks and suicide bombings are killing U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians almost daily. To play the part, the men of the 509th were allowed to grow full beards and wear Iraqi civvies in place of their uniform.
Lt. Col. Casey Griffith, the commander of the unit, calls the 509th "the best bad guys I know, but also the best good guys I have ever known."
The bad guys now have to switch sides. With the Army pressed to rotate more soldiers into Iraq, they have now turned to the 509th, which hasn't been deployed in 60 years. Two of the battalion's four companies, Alpha and Bravo, have been called up for duty in Iraq.
"I think the Army said, 'Hey that's the 509th - those are Geronimoes. They're a historic unit. They're a well-trained unit, a highly disciplined unit. We need somebody right now and those guys are ready,' " said Griffith.
So the notorious "bad guys" have had to shave their beards, put on an Army uniform, and become regular soldiers again. For the last few weeks, they've trained almost night and day with little sleep - learning to be U.S. soldiers, not foreign terrorists.
Best Trained, But Not in the Best Way
Sgt. Christopher Campbell has been watching Geronimoes fight other Geronimoes and is impressed. "These guys in a month have transformed a lot. It's amazing how they picked up from one side and went to the other."
The Geronimoes are one of the best-trained units in the military, but they were focused primarily on being the best antagonists. That meant working independently with few restrictions. Now they must learn to act as a centralized unit dependent on one another for survival.
In their training to go to Iraq, they practice everything from interacting with local leaders to dealing with civilian complaints to planning covert missions to weed out insurgents.
Sgt. Jason Buda says it's different being on the other side.
"Because you have certain rules to follow. You have to basically interact with the people to try to do your combat mission as well as a humanitarian mission. The enemy doesn't have rules to follow."
Pvt. James Jennings used to launch rockets at the visiting soldiers. Now as he heads to Iraq, he believes he's more prepared than most. "We're a lot more aggressive. We used to go in chasing after people, getting it done real quick, so we move a lot quicker normally than we would before."
Advice from the Experienced
The fighting on the real streets of Iraq often has turned deadly. Since the invasion, more than 800 troops have died. The Army has tried to learn from real combat so they can better prepare soldiers for the dangers they face.
They bring in soldiers who just got back from Iraq to share those lessons learned. "Maybe if our words can help them stay alive over there, that's all we're aiming to do," says Sgt. Michael Ketchen.
He says the biggest problem was not understanding the language and cultural differences in Iraq. "Just like how to tell a person to stop over there. It's little things like that that are going to help you get by day to day."
The Army's trainers incorporate those lessons. They know good interaction with civilians is key to a successful operation. So in a simulated invasion of an Iraqi town to look for Iraqi insurgents, the American soldiers play a script on loudspeakers that says: "We are here in town to make it a safer place. We are here for your security. We need you to obey our orders."
After the exercise, they get a review of how they did. The new commander of Bravo company, Capt. Roy Tisdale, wants more from his soldiers. He says they've become so good at playing the enemy that they must now learn that not everyone is their adversary. "Now we're dealing with it and learning to deal with people who are not necessarily the bad guy - that are just upset or have an issue, you know, what is a real threat and what is a non-lethal threat, and handling each."
The soldiers will be gone at least a year and no one feels that harder than their families. Tisdale's wife Kim is the volunteer leader of the family readiness group. She remembers getting the bad news in a double surprise: "He came home and he said two companies had been alerted, Alpha and Bravo. And I said, Well, good, you're not going to go. And he said, Well, Bravo company commander broke his leg that same day, so he's going to take over Bravo and go. So it was a big shock."
None of the families have had much time to prepare - the orders came so fast. The surprise deployment has meant an early marriage for Erin and Issac Barnhart who were high school sweethearts. Erin says: "It makes me real emotional to think about the possibility of him dying, and the intense stuff that they do every single day. They're out there in direct contact, and it's really hard to understand the fact that he could be gone. I mean, I've only had a very short amount of time to be with him. But I'm very proud."
Adding to a Storied Past
The deployment of the 509th begins a new chapter in the battalion's long storied history. The unit played a prominent role in some of World War II's key campaigns. On Nov. 8, 1942, the 509th spearheaded the Allied invasion of North Africa, jumping into Algeria after a 1,600-mile flight from England.
One of the veteran 509ers, John Devanie, went back to Fort Polk to see the deployment of the two units. He gathered the men around them and told them, "I feel like I'm seven feet tall being in front of you. Because I was the same age about 61 years ago. And I'm real thrilled to be here."
Two of the four companies will be left behind to continue training other soldiers. National Guardsmen will be sent to Fort Polk to fill in for the deployed soldiers. Splitting up the unit is difficult. Commander Griffith says: "None of them are my sons, none of them are my brothers, but they're my soldiers and there's a bond there that's tighter than anything I can imagine."
Griffith says his men are ready and believes their experience playing the bad guys for so long will serve them well now that they're the good guys.
Thank you for your service Ronnie.
I guess I'm going to do some research on the nickel O nasty boys. You got my curiousity up.
Anyone know how many US serviceman have been injured since the handover June 28th?
Until my Son-in-Law was deployed, as a member of the Old Guard (Ft. Myer) he was often involved with war games where he participated as "the enemy". They'd generally send him to Ft. Polk or to AP Hill.
.."WE WERE SOLDIERS"..MOORE & GALLOWAY / JW Radio Guests
I was in the AF too. Being a microwave radio tech, I was always on mountain tops, the small AF stations are a little different than most chowhalls. They only have cooks make one meal a day. The rest of the time, you just sign your name, go into the kitchen and make whatever you want to. If I recall, they usually locked up the steaks though. LOL
I hope someone else notices that this is robbing the training component of an extremely valuable asset and putting them out of commission for 2 years.
Two companies rotating into The Box is a good thing - the Geronimoes will pick up a few real-time things to augment their role-play at JRTC, and with two National Guard companies rotating in to take their place, the guard comes out of it with two school-trainers, that they go back to THEIR training sites and spread the gospel.
Clinton broke the army when he cut it to 10 divisions. There's no way that a 10 division army can fight 2 simultaneous wars.
Oh, there's no arguement with that first part from me! But two "major conflicts" isn't quite the rule anymore; it's more like one major plus two minors. Now with OIF handed over, Big Army has almost rotated all their formations out, and the Guard/Reserve formations have the ball. The Bosnia and MFO missions are also almost all Guard, too. So, some of the pressure is off Big Army, for now.
If they are robbing entire training units, and especially at the major training centers of JRTC & NTC, then they are admitting that the army is big time broke.
Sorry, Sir, but that's not quite in the ten-ring. 11 ACR at Irwin hasn't been touched, and only two companies of 1/509 are in rotation; and they're getting Guardsmen as backfill. And that's only the Big Army schools; the various Reserve training centers are still hopping - like at Fort McCoy, where I'm writing from tonight; a Mobilization base that preps the kids for the trip. Plus we've got the train-ups once boots hit the dirt in theater.
Please belive me, there's no slack in the training of the gangs going out. What you see as a broke battalion, I see as two companies of big Army troops with sharper skills, and two more companies of Guardsmen who will know better how to work the kids over back home. Winners all around!
The 11th ACR at NTC will shortly be touched. A little bird told me. (Solid info.)
Sarge, no one is saying that the army cannot do it, nor that everyone concerned won't learn a lot....they will.
What I'm saying is that they're deploying units from the training base. I've been around the army since 1970, and it hasn't happened in all that period.
It's a testimony to the army being TOO small. (2 regional wars at the same time has long been the standard, although I agree that there was some discussion about one major and a few skirmishes.)
Hm. If that's the case, then it's the first deployment for the Blackhorse in a long time.
I rode with them last June, on a rotation against a Guard unit that's already in The Box. They did fine.
The two-region war is a throwback from our time: two-front war against the Great Red Hordes. We did the same thing, when I wore a younger man's uniform in the early 80's. But we're finding the multi-conflict works real well. And with the new Brigade Combat Team structure, it means less tail, more teeth.
Believe me I noticed. We were always told that if they deplopyed this unit things were getting mighty tight for deployable troops.
Sec. Rumsfeld intends to do so by civilianizing a number of positions.....I guess from cooks to transporters.
This leads to the obvious question: what are the advantages of having the cooks be military members rather than civilians?
Easy: civilians might not always be found who want to go to a combat zone.
Tax dollars get saved, too, I imagine...
I've eaten an MRE, and I choked it down to the amusement of my brother. He reminds about it all the time to keep those those care packages coming. I'd really like to buy one or two and put them in the next package - I think that would get a laugh or two from the boys!
They pay the civilians enormous upfront money to go to a combat zone. But, I don't see what they can do if the civilian decides it's too hot and just hops a plane back home. They don't have the problem of benefits, training, retirement, in the out years.
It still seems to me, though, that if we have 10 soldiers we have to pay and one of them is a cook, then we have 9 fighers. If we replace the cook with a fighter we have 10 fighers....all of whom we still have to pay.
When we hire a cook, it would seem that the defense budget would go up, not down. Same number of soldiers PLUS civilian help.
It's the old "which pot of money" game.
Actually, they sent two out of THREE. There is only A, B and D. It really crippled the JRTC and there were MANY rotations that went through while the G-men were gone. A national guard unit came in to replace them, and the training was nothing of the caliber of the real thing. The schedule was not open as you suggested. It did give them some real world experience that will be valuable to the group, but being so unexpected it left a tremendous burden on their families. They only had a few weeks notice!
"Awesome way to train,,,why don't the marines train like that? Even the air force, navy has top gun schools with skilled warriors in the role of the enemy.."
When my son was in Ramadi, the Army was responsible for conveying out hot meals to the Marines. Some days, the convoy would arrive, some days not, depending on how dangerous the Army assessed the situation to be.
Maybe the Marines have a better way of training so they can get the job done.
(I have not served. My byline honors my son and all U.S. Marines.)
"the history of the marines for hundreds of years is one of having the ARMY bail them out of situations where they need rescuing... not the other way around..LOL:"
Actually, the history of the Marines is going in first. Also LOL.
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