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Fort Wainwright unveils new urban combat center

Opening of facility features pyrotechnics, fake terrorists, Islamic prayers over sound system

Posted: Sunday, April 25, 2004

FAIRBANKS - The Army's new urban warfare training facility at Fort Wainwright is the closest thing to battle and the rigors of survival, as far as Cpl. Jared Goertzen is concerned.

He should know, having just returned from Iraq.

"It's real realistic training," Goertzen said. "This is as close as it gets to the real thing without getting into the real thing."

Goertzen and a few dozen other soldiers put on a mock siege Thursday at the new Pvt. Joe Martinez Combined Arms Collective Training Facility, a multi-building complex touted as the "future" of urban warfare training.

There were pyrotechnics, fake terrorists and the sound of Islamic prayers blasted over a sound system in the exercise staged for the opening of the new facility as video cameras rolled and civilian and military guests looked on.

Army officials say the 25-acre complex offers soldiers an opportunity to train for situations they might face in Iraq or Afghanistan in a way they've never been able to before. Maj. Gen. John M. Brown, commander of U.S. Army Alaska, noted that this is the sixth such complex built by the military.

"This facility will save lives, increase readiness and is an absolute monument to the American soldiers we rely on to go into battle," Brown said.

The complex contains several types of buildings to train in and around. It has several technological innovations that allow more realistic training and gives commanders plenty of tools to help point out and correct mistakes.

The entire site is wired for video and sound, allowing commanders to instruct their troops as they work through drills and to tape those drills for later examination in "after-action reviews."

The complex is made up of 17 buildings, including a four-story command center, hotel, bank, embassy, strip mall, garage and school. Beneath the buildings are tunnels meant to simulate a city's sewer system and the kind of caves found in Afghanistan.

Realism is the general theme. So much so that designers even gave commanders the ability to create odors either in a building or across the entire compound. The sweet scent of apple pie floated on the breeze Thursday afternoon.

"We have a wide variety of special effects smells we can do," said Manuel Chaves, the civilian site manager. "For instance, coffee, apple pie, pizza, dead bodies, burning rubber, diesel fumes. I can do nine buildings, nine different smells.

"Generally, if it's a burning building, we put something really nasty in there like burning bodies so they can get used to it."

As Fort Wainwright evolves into a post mostly dedicated to the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, the complex will be used to train with the Stryker and Fox vehicles. But it also will be used by a variety of units as well.

The $17 million complex is named after the first Hispanic Medal of Honor recipient in World War II. He was awarded the medal posthumously for his efforts in World War II's battle for Attu Island in 1943. Though killed during the siege, he is credited with leading his fellow soldiers through heavy gunfire and spurring them on to victory.



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