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5,000 soldiers participate in Army activity in Hawaii

U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to the 173rd Brigade Support Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade prepare to board an Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft assigned to the 86th Airlift Wing at Aviano Air Base in preparation for airborne operation onto Juliet Drop Zone in Pordenone, Italy, May 22, 2018. The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, capable of projecting ready forces anywhere in the U.S. European, Africa or Central Commands' areas of responsibility. (U.S Army)
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While naval forces are at sea for Rim of the Pacific, the Army is holding its own big exercise, with lots of troops on the ground, military

vehicles on the move and helicopters in the air as they practice against what are known as “near-peer” competitors.

More than 5,000 soldiers are participating in “Lightning Forge,” the largest exercise of the year for the 25th Infantry Division.

The United States’ near-peers China and Russia “are advancing in the field at an alarming rate,” Mary Miller, assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, said in May.

While the United States

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focused on insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan for nearly two decades, Russia and China were investing in technology, Miller noted.

Schofield soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, with 75 pounds of gear, including blank-fire rifles and five quarts of water each, bushwhacked over 10 miles Sunday through gulches, muddy hills and dense foliage at Kahuku Training Area — and then faced a well-trained “enemy” that was waiting for them early

Monday morning in a mock village.

Soldiers ran out of water on the way. One platoon lost 14 of 25 personnel in the laser-targeting firefight, which involved about 600 friendly soldiers and 400 from the “opposition force,” officials said.

“They are getting us ready for the real thing. It’s nowhere near the real thing — but it’s as close as we can get,” said Pfc. Adam Whitener, a 21-year-old radio operator from North Carolina.

Just getting to the fight “was pretty brutal. I’m not going to lie,” Whitener said afterward.

The commander of the 25th wants all units “to be ready for any contingency out here in the Pacific” — but that readiness is not aimed at a specific threat, said Col. J.B. Vowell, the division’s deputy commander for operations.

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“So we fight (in training) against an agnostic threat that is very capable,” Vowell said.

Still, the mock village has

a church, steeple (used as a firing vantage point by enemy forces) and graveyard that could be in a country such as Poland. The hilly

environment in Kahuku could be in Korea.

Lightning Forge is a culminating exercise this year for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, and a precursor to a rotation through the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., which Vowell likened to the “Super Bowl” of training.

So the friendly forces

were centered on soldiers from the 2nd Brigade and

helicopter and other support provided to them, while the opposition came from Scho­field’s 3rd Brigade and other units, including the Army Reserve’s 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry.

Lightning Forge runs from July 13 through this weekend. The overall scenario involved the fictitious island of Mauga, which is invaded by

a nondemocratic nation, Vowell said.

International forces, including the United States, are called in to help.

He said the point is “to replicate capabilities that are a real threat to us” — which means somebody “who has cyber capabilities against us, somebody who has electronic warfare capabilities against us, somebody who has missiles and rockets

and artillery that out-range

us at times.”

The exercise’s enemy force has tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and

helicopters, fixed-wing airplanes and drones.

Lightning Forge started with a large base of operations at Dillingham Airfield and includes Kahuku, Scho­field and Bellows.

Vowell said the Army has been trying to “make sure we’re good neighbors and good friends with a whole bunch of vehicles and aircraft that are all of a sudden in your neighborhood.”

That means moving convoys at nonpeak traffic times and flying aircraft at night to and from Dillingham, he said.

“We try to take all that into account for the community that supports us training out here,” Vowell said.

Many of the soldiers were muddy and tired Monday

after the hike and firefight.

Spc. Justin Anderson, 21, from Kenosha, Wis., said the woodland trek “really works you on the way up.”

Anderson, a rifleman, was on his fourth day in the field, and had slept on the ground the night before.

“I love it. It’s fun. Just the adrenaline. Just pumping,” he said.

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© 2018 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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