EDINBURGH, Ind. - Hosting foreign forces and last summer's multinational, NATO-led Bold Quest exercise, Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center has the reputation of a premier training facility and mobilization station for American troops, and has become world renowned as a training site for military, civilian and police forces.
From March 8-25, over 250 Canadian soldiers from 31st Canadian Brigade Group, Land Forces Central Area in Ontario came by bus, helicopter and train to try their hand in urban warfare training at Camp Atterbury and the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex for Exercise Arrowhead Lightning 2012.
"The March break period is a favorable timeframe for our soldiers to participate in extended training," said Canadian Col. Mark Campbell, commander, 31st Canadian Brigade Group. "These facilities and this location allow training that is not possible in Canada at this time of year."
According to Campbell, the facilities at Atterbury and Muscatatuck allow soldiers to train in several different skill sets, from explosives to urban combat tactics. In Canada, soldiers would have to be sent to several different facilities to accomplish the same training that they are able to accomplish right here at Atterbury and Muscatatuck.
Canadian Brig. Gen. Fred Lewis, commander of Land Forces Central Area, said the facilities at Atterbury and Muscatatuck were so impressive that he hopes to send more and more troops here to train in the future.
"We've all used remote facilities or urban complex facilities at one time or another," Lewis said, "but this is to the next level. The complexity that is presented here is outstanding."
The first wave of Canadian Soldiers arrived here March 8, with their vehicles arriving via the newly reopened railhead at Camp Atterbury. The remainder of the force arrived the following weekend.
Upon arrival, the soldiers immediately took to the task of training with Muscatatuck's Wolf Operations Battalion in urban warfare, using facilities at Atterbury to include a live-fire shoot house and several small, urban complexes.
"The shoot house was the best," said Canadian Cpl Anthony Van Wyngaarden, a machine gunner from the 31st CBG. "Not only were we able to train with live rounds, but it was great being able to review everything we did on tape. It was some of the best and most realistic training I've had."
After training at Camp Atterbury, the soldiers moved south to Muscatatuck. The training there began at 4 a.m., and the Canadian soldiers flew in on helicopters and had to navigate through wooded terrain under rain and darkness to an objective where simulated enemies had taken a foothold in two large adjacent buildings.
Soldiers had to gain fire superiority by setting up machine gun positions in a parking garage next to the two buildings and provide cover fire for their comrades as they infiltrated the building, practicing explosive-breaching techniques they had just learned at Atterbury the week before.
After they finished searching the building, they found that many of the enemies had escaped to the second building via an underground tunnel connecting the two. Soldiers were forced to close the tunnel and start all over again, infiltrating yet another large building and searching room-to-room for the enemies. The battle went on for several hours.
"These guys are doing a great job," said Army Master Sgt. Scott Cutter, acting command sergeant major for Wolf Operations Observer-Controller Battalion. "We have a lot of folks here at Wolf Ops that are real experts at this kind of warfare and these guys have picked up the skills we taught them very quickly."
Although extremely impressed with the training at Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck, Canadian Cpl. Chris Bradley, an infantryman from the 31st, did have one complaint: "I really wish we had more time here."
Bradley might get his wish.
"I think it's a really good idea for us to continue training down here," Lewis said, adding that it was an especially good training tool for the younger generation of soldiers.
"The first thing you think to yourself when you get [to Muscatatuck], is that this place looks like something right out of a video game," he said. "That will have great resonance with the younger soldiers. I think I can see coming down here again. So far the U.S. Army has been a wonderful host and has supported us."
Lewis said the site itself is not the only thing that makes Atterbury and Muscatatuck an ideal place for them to train. Canada's reserve forces have two main timeframes in which they have their annual training. One of them is in March and the other is in February. He said that unless they want to do strictly cold-weather training, the weather in Indiana makes it an ideal place for Canadian soldiers to train.
Another experience that Canadian soldiers were able to benefit from was the opportunity to train alongside a coalition partner. Aside from receiving training from Wolf Ops, Canadian Chinook helicopters flew alongside Indiana National Guard Blackhawk helicopters to transport troops to Muscatatuck. Lewis looks to have more coalition training in the future.
"If something were ever to happen on the border between Canada and America, we will all be better able to operate together if we are used to training together," Lewis said. "I think that is the next step."