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
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,
"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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Civilian on the Battlefield role player portraying a Muslim
cleric is questioned by Soldiers during a riot-control training
exercise. (Photo by Anita
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
"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
"This teaches them what to look for and how to deal with
(situations)," Sullivan said. "Soldiers need to keep
practicing these things."