Maj. Steve Hickman wears the uniform of an American soldier, but for the last two weeks he has undermined the U.S. military by planning chemical and Scud missile attacks and other sabotage on troops deployed to the Middle East.
But Maj. Hickman, an Army reservist, is no traitor. He's an actor in a carefully scripted war game aimed at improving skills of the Army's military intelligence soldiers.
Working from Luketina Hall at Fort Gordon, Maj. Hickman is playing the Red Force enemy commander for Operation Bold Knight, the biennial training exercise for the 513th Military Intelligence Battalion.
"We actually replicated what it would be like on the battlefield," said Chief Warrant Officer John Bailey, a security officer also playing the enemy for the exercise.
Nearly 1,000 soldiers at Fort Gordon; Fort Jackson, S.C.; Corry Station, Fla.; Edgewood Arsenal, Md.; Fort Dix, N.J.; and Fort Bliss, Texas, are participating in the exercise.
At Fort Gordon's Training Area 8, where the 201st Military Intelligence Battalion has set up a seven-person tracking out-station, soldiers are constantly on alert for saboteurs.
"The other night, one of the soldiers could have sworn they heard somebody behind us," said platoon leader Lt. Victoria Lee-Merrow. "They had all their battle gear on and their red flashlights out, but they didn't find anything."
For the exercise, Lt. Lee-Merrow's platoon intercepts signals, communications and Morse code transmissions to pinpoint the location of enemy forces and paint an accurate picture of the battlefield for troops on the front line.
To protect their delicate, secret operation, armed soldiers march around the perimeter of the encampment every hour, searching for spies or telltale "white cards," evidence of an enemy infiltration.
At other camps, white cards have been left to indicate a generator was tampered with or that sugar was poured into the gas tank of a Humvee, crippling the vehicle. Another camp was actually sprayed with tear gas and canned smoke, and the soldiers were forced to suit up in their chemical gear.
While other units intercept computer signals, soldiers from the 202nd Military Intelligence Battalion interview townspeople to determine what actions the enemy is planning.
Army reservists from units in Augusta, Miami and Baton Rouge, La., played these sources in Bold Knight, trying to outwit the military intelligence agents and put them in dangerous situations. The agents, in turn, are charged with squeezing information from their sources and reporting it back to the front.
"The challenge was to capture the detail, their ability to observe other things happening around them that might be important," said Maj. Bonnie Fautua, battalion executive officer. "It also gave them a chance to test their responses."
In one scenario, Maj. Fautua played a shopkeeper willing to trade information to the Americans for money, something they aren't authorized to do. The crafty shopkeeper also tried to separate the agents and get them to leave their weapons with her.
"They didn't fall into my trap," said Maj. Fautua, who teased the soldiers with a little information but didn't give up much because they wouldn't pay her. "The way my role was designed was I didn't have any real information.
"They did exactly what they should have," she said of the soldiers who interviewed her.
On the volatile battlefield, each action by a unit or individual soldier can have a significant impact on the operation. For example, the brigade chaplain was traveling to a camp one day when his vehicle struck a camel, killing the animal and the driver.
"That sets into action a whole series of events," said Capt. Sean Mikula, public affairs officer for the brigade.
Because each action on the battlefield triggers certain reactions, win or lose, soldiers learn things during war games that will help them in a real deployment, said Maj. Hickman, the enemy commander.
"There's hundreds of pieces," he said. "It's very interesting to get up in front of your supervisors and tell them what they did wrong that day."
Col. John Green, the brigade commander, said he is pleased with this fall's Bold Knight exercise, which ends Friday. Last fall, the brigade simply moved their offices from their headquarters on Barnes Avenue to the field. But this year's fictional scenario, based on the unit's real-world mission, was more complex and more like an actual deployment, the colonel said.
"I'm going to tell them how fundamentally impressed I am at their ability to move to the next level of skill," he said, planning his post-mission briefing.
In a follow-up exercise in June, commanders will spread elements farther apart, as they would be in a real world situation, and ratchet up the challenge.
"We're going to take a step closer toward realism with a higher degree of difficulty," Col. Green said.
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