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Civilian role players add battlefield realism

      Personnel who role play civilians on the battlefield (COBs) at Fort McCoy are helping to prepare mobilized Soldiers for the conditions they will face during deployment.

      Capt. William Peel of the 2nd Brigade, 85th Division (Training Support), the officer in charge of the COBs, said the training helps teach the collective and individual skills Soldiers will need to complete their missions during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Civilians on the Battlefield role play protesters outside a base camp during a training scenario. (Photo by Anita Johnson)
Civilians on the Battlefield role play protesters outside a base camp during a training scenario. (Photo by Anita Johnson)

      Soldiers receive cultural informational handouts that are used as part of an intensive five-day process to train on encountering COBs, Peel said.

      "It's more realistic to have civilians being portrayed by real people," Peel said. "They get an opportunity to interact with civilians that they might encounter while deployed."

      Master Sgt. Gordon Hofman of the 1st, 340th Regiment of the 2nd, 85th (TS) said the goal of using COBs is to prepare Soldiers to be able to react to in-country situations they may encounter with local civilians.

      Soldiers have to learn to distinguish between COBs who may be dangerous to them, such as suicide bombers, and other COBs who are friendly and may be delivering supplies, working in the base camp or seeking assistance, such as food and water, Hofman said. Soldiers also must follow strict rules of engagement when encountering civilian personnel.

      The COBs portray male or female civilians who may be belligerent, angry, desperate or benevolent, he said. Some of the scenarios involve civilians driving or walking past the base compound, a drive-by shooting, rioting or protests against the military. The COBs' roles are tightly scripted, and simulate events that may occur.

Marie Chappell (right), a Civilian on the Battlefield role player, discusses an upcoming scenario with Capt. William Peel, COB officer in charge. Photo by Rob Schuette
Marie Chappell (right), a Civilian on the Battlefield role player, discusses an upcoming scenario with Capt. William Peel, COB officer in charge. (Photo by Rob Schuette)

      The scenario scripts are based on feedback from personnel in-theater, from information gleaned by watching daily news reports from media outlets and from feedback from units that have gone through the process, Hofman said.

      Military personnel originally filled the roles but were judged to be too close to the process to effectively role play foreign civilians.

      The personnel were hired through a contract established by First U.S. Army with Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR).

      KBR subcontracted the hiring of these personnel at Fort McCoy to Randstad of Madison, Wis. In addition to Fort McCoy, contract civilian role players also are being used at Fort Drum, N.Y.; Fort Dix, N.J.; Fort Pickett, Va.; Fort Campbell, Ky.; Forts Stewart and Benning, Ga.; Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico; and Camp Atterbury, Ind.  Outsourcing for contract role players to support mobilization training is not new for the military and has been done for many years to support both the active and reserve components.

      In this scenario, contract civilians perform roles as noncombatants (townspeople, interpreters, security officials and media personnel) and former regime loyalists (terrorists and insurgent supporters).

      The COBs said they sought the roles because it was a way to support the military and to help them learn the skills they will need to survive during deployments.

      Dee Hix of Wilton said she considered it the most important job she has ever had, while Gayle Short and Marie Chappell, also of Wilton, said they were pleased to do something important for the Soldiers. "We possibly may be saving Soldiers' lives by playing these roles," Hix said.

A Civilian on the Battlefield role player portraying a Muslim cleric is questioned by Soldiers during a riot-control training exercise. (Photo by Anita Johnson)
A Civilian on the Battlefield role player portraying a Muslim cleric is questioned by Soldiers during a riot-control training exercise. (Photo by Anita Johnson)

      Aaron Hadley, who is the spouse of a Soldier serving at Fort McCoy, said he had prior military experience, and when he heard about the part it was something he wanted to do to help support the training.

      "We take it very seriously," Hadley said. "We try to make it realistic and stay in character. It's been a great experience for me in meeting good people, making friends and being paid for having fun."

      Pvt. 2 Korin Denman of the 847th Personnel Services, Detachment 3 of Columbus, Ohio, said the Soldiers can see the end results of some of these scenarios on television news.

      "What we don't see is how Soldiers react to those situations and civilian personnel," Denman said. "This teaches us how to react in these situations."

      Pvt. 2 Brad Taylor of the 847th said the training helped get unit personal "squared away." Taylor had just completed basic training and joined the unit.

      "We've never had much of this type of training," Taylor said. "This was a great experience, and the instructors taught us a lot."

      Maj. Darryl Sullivan of the 2nd Field Artillery Battalion, 410th Regiment of Fort Knox, Ky., said the Soldiers are taught how to react to many different scenarios, such as hitting the ground when they hear a "whipping" sound, which probably is weapons fire.

            "This teaches them what to look for and how to deal with (situations)," Sullivan said. "Soldiers need to keep practicing these things."

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