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January 05, 2006
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'Shoothouse' puts Troops on Target

by Tataboline BRANT, Anchorage Daily News

Published: November 13, 2005

REALITY: Live-fire practice readies soldiers for tough urban combat.

It's about 15 degrees in Muldoon and the boys of Alpha Company's 2nd Platoon aren't having much trouble keeping warm.

For the first time, the 35 or so paratroopers -- all infantrymen with Fort Richardson's new airborne brigade -- are testing themselves against the Army's new, state-of-the-art "Shoothouse."

The building -- a massive, unheated pavilion that's divided into more than a dozen rooms and hallways -- is part of a new high-tech combat training range on Fort Richardson. Construction on the Shoothouse was completed some time ago, but it wasn't until last week that the first units went up against its gadgetry.

The Shoothouse sits in a gravel pit about a mile inside the boundary that separates Fort Rich from its civilian Muldoon neighbors. It is designed to give soldiers practice, with some degree of reality including real ammunition, at clearing buildings like they might have to in Iraq or other combat zones.

Among the Shoothouse's perks: Kevlar-titanium-rubber walls that absorb stray bullets; life-size computerized mannequin targets that fall when shot; audio recordings to add distractions; and video cameras that record the exercises for later review.

All that gear is a far cry from what many of the paratroopers have seen at other Army posts. For example, Sgt. Matthew Harris, 23, said when he was at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, troops used paper plates attached to balloons as targets. "Balloon pops, you got the target," he explained.

"Having a life-size mannequin fall and make a disturbance on the ground is great realistic training," said Capt. Ed Arntson, commander of Alpha Company.

For about seven hours Tuesday, the paratroopers shuffled through the Shoothouse in groups of five or six. The teams lined up outside the building with their M-4 assault rifles and peered into the first door. At the end of a long hallway was the first target: a male mannequin. The goal was to take him out with one or two shots. Most teams succeeded.

The teams then hurried into the building, shouting "Door left!" as they spotted the first room. Two soldiers entered the room and took out the two Human Urban Targets, or "HUTS," inside.

The team continued down the hallway until all the rooms were cleared. In the background, a woman screamed and a man yelled, "Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" on a looping recording. Up above, on a catwalk, Arntson watched his men's progress.

"There's quite a bit of repetition, which is really good," Arntson explained over the noise. "The more you do something, the better you get at it."

At one point, Arntson motioned to another commander across the catwalk, who knew instantly what the problem was with the soldiers down below.

"They didn't clear the closet before they went past it," the commander shouted to Arntson, who shook his head in agreement.

Arntson said each of his troops gets about 60 rounds and they keep training until they run out. He said he hopes to bring his unit out to the Shoothouse once a month now, because it provides great realistic training and an opportunity for the troops to work together as a team.

In places like Iraq, Arntson said, "These squad leaders and team leaders, those are the guys on the ground -- in the buildings and in the rooms -- making the tough decisions." The more practice they can get here, he said, the better.

The paratroopers Tuesday wore thick camouflage jackets, helmets, flak vests and bunny boots. Arnston said if the guys can run the drills in all that gear, they should have no problem doing it under other conditions elsewhere.

Arnston said he's heard nothing but positive things from his men about the new facility.

Then again, he said, "Anytime these guys get to come out and shoot live bullets they're happy."

Daily News reporter Tataboline Brant can be reached at tbrant@adn.com or 257-4321

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