May. 5, 2014 – 06:00AM   |  Army Times’ Website
About 30 percent of the first group of soldiers to participate in the Army's rigorous Jungle Operations Training Course failed to pass the 21-day school.

About 30 percent of the first group of soldiers to participate in the Army’s rigorous Jungle Operations Training Course failed to pass the 21-day school. (Sgt. Sean Freiberg / Army)
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The jungle presents environmental challenges soldiers haven’t encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Sgt. Sean Freiberg / Army)
The jungle presents environmental challenges soldiers haven’t encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Sgt. Sean Freiberg / Army)

3 weeks in the jungle

Soldiers who attend the 25th Infantry Division’s new Jungle Operations Training Course spend 21 days in the jungles of Hawaii. Here’s a closer look at the course:
Week One
■ Introduction and safety brief.
■ Overview of the Pacific Command area of operations.
■ Overview of the jungle and its hazards.
■ Training on preventive medicine; casualty and medical evacuation tactics, techniques and procedures; and jungle-specific patrol base techniques.
■ Survival training, including how to forage for food, find and treat water, build improvised shelters, start fires and set traps.
■ Jungle mobility training; this includes ropes and rope maintenance, how to tie knots, how to conduct rope-assisted ascents and descents, and how to conduct rope-assisted casualty evacuations.
■ Waterborne operations, including water safety, waterproofing and riverine operations.

■ Day and night land navigation.
Week Two
■ Ground sign awareness and tracking training. This includes how to identify and track footprints, and how to recognize and identify booby traps.
■ Combined skills exercises, where soldiers put together the individual skills they’ve learned on communication, survival, jungle mobility, land navigation and tracking.
■ Training on patrolling, assaulting and reacting to contact.
■ Live fire training.
Week Three
■ Live fire training.
■ Company field training exercise, a cumulative exercise that lasts six days.

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The Army is reclaiming the lost art of jungle warfare, and soldiers who make it through the new 21-day school can earn a tab and big bragging rights.

The new Jungle Operations Training Course was born out of the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division’s regional alignment with Pacific Command and the Defense Department’s rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.

“When you look at the area we operate in, from India all the way through Bangladesh, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and into the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, to East Timor and Papua New Guinea, all of them are jungle,” said Maj. Gen. Kurt Fuller, commanding general of 25th ID.

But the training won’t be limited to Hawaii-based grunts.

“We’re offering it up to the Army,” Fuller said. “If that’s something they’re interested in doing, we’d be happy to support it with the right resources.”

The ability to operate in the jungle is important not only for troops aligned with Pacific Command, but also potentially for those working in Africa and other places around the world, Fuller said.

“Eventually, I think it would be a healthy thing to have it as an Army course,” he said.

This is the first time the Army has had its own jungle school since Fort Sherman was turned over to the Panamanians in 1999.

“We have to learn to not only survive in this environment, we have to learn to live in this environment,” said Sgt. 1st Class Dominick Johnson, the senior instructor for the new JOTC.

Maj. Andrew Lyman, commander of the Lightning Academy, which oversees the JOTC, agreed.

“Our focus on the [Central Command area of operations] during the last decade and the closure of the jungle school in Panama created kind of a vacuum of experience, and this is an attempt to relearn a lot of the lessons,” he said.

So far, about 800 soldiers, making up a battalion task force, have completed the JOTC on the island of Oahu — and about 550, or about 70 percent, successfully earned the Jungle Expert tab, a play on the patch that was awarded to those who made it through the Army’s old jungle school at Fort Sherman.

The second iteration of the course kicked off April 21 at the East Range Training Area in central Oahu.

Fighting in the jungle is a completely different experience than what many soldiers today have experienced, Fuller said.

“Most of your engagements are very, very close. You don’t see the enemy until you’re 50 meters or closer,” he said. “You might hear them before that, but being able to pinpoint a location, unless they’re shooting at you first, which you don’t want to have happen, you have to be pretty sneaky to get to them first.”

Johnson said soldiers have to rely on their senses in the jungle.

“We’re so accustomed to being able to command and control our guys through line of sight, but you can’t do that in the jungle,” he said. “The three- to five-second rush, you can’t do that in some places. In some cases, you have to crawl to your objective.

“You’re not only fighting the enemy, but you’re fighting the terrain; you’re fighting the weather. They say the jungle is neutral. It doesn’t fight for you, it doesn’t fight against you, but it’s tough.”

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