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Setting the scene

Fort Wainwright training facility provides gritty realism

photos by David Bedard/Fort Wainwright PAO

An Alaska State Trooper maneuvers to a position of dominance while his fire team clears a room during training at the Fort Wainwright Joseph P. Martinez Combined Arms Collective Training Facility. The facility is used by government agencies across Alaska to prepare personnel for realworld scenarios.

David Bedard
Fort Wainwright PAO

The muezzin’s voice broadcasts crisp Arabic verses over minaret loudspeakers during the morning call to prayer as a fire team dismounts from a Stryker. The four Soldiers quickly stack at the entrance of a known terrorist safe house in preparation for forced entry. They strain to focus as their nostrils take in the odor of burning tires. Civilians peer out windows to investigate what’s happening as the signal passes down the line, and one of the Soldiers kicks open the door before all four of the men pour into the room…

This isn’t a scene from the streets of Mosul or Kabul, but rather a training event at Fort Wainwright’s Pvt. Joseph P. Martinez Combined Arms Collective Training Facility, U.S. Army Alaska’s premier urban training center.

The CACTF is a collection of buildings, complete with electricity and furniture, arrayed into a mock small town for the purpose of exercising units and organizations such as the Alaska State Troopers in urban warfare.

The facility’s concept was born from an Army study group, which was commissioned in 1999 to form the Army’s urban training strategy. According to Greg Swallows, range facility manager, the Fort Wainwright CACTF was the Army’s second instrumented facility.

Initially, there was deliberation on whether to construct the facility on Fort Wainwright or in the Yukon Training Area, Swallows said. Ultimately, Wainwright’s site was chosen for its easy access.

“There are no sustainment support requirements for a company to go (to the CACTF),” Swallows said. “They can walk from the barracks and utilize the facility.”

The CACTF was constructed between 2001 and 2003, Swallows said, with two years slated for construction and one year for instrumentation. The instrumentation system consists of the computers, cameras, target systems and other electronics required for simulation and after action reviews.

A unit can be filmed in real time as they maneuver through buildings while engaging opposing force Soldiers or pop-up targets with training rounds. With input from senior unit leaders, the footage is then edited by CACTF staff for playback in the facility’s after action review theater, where the unit gathers in stadium seating to glean lessons learned from the exercise.

“The key to (the range) facilities, especially the shoot house and the CACTF, is the AAR to provide the unit, the commander and the Soldier (the ability) to learn from their training,” Swallows said.

Lt. Lonnie Piscoya, Alaska State Troopers, expounded on the value of AARs.

“Most helpful for us is to review the video and debrief our mistakes with tactics and make it better for the real-world application,” he said. “Our preference is if mistakes are made that they are made during training. This is the perfect training environment.”

According to Jeffrey Stokes, CACTF site manager, the training scenario is specifically tailored to the unit’s needs.

“A good 50 percent of their success is based upon the planning that the unit does ahead of time,” Stokes said.

Over the years, the facility has changed drastically to reflect real-world conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan. This constituted a departure from the swept streets and manicured grass that originally marked the CACTF grounds.

“We started dirtying it up,” Swallows said. “The guys on site would go dumpster diving at DRMO (the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office) to furnish the place and make it look like a Third World country.”

All the street and storefront signs are in Arabic, rooms are fully furnished with drapes and decorations, laundry hangs neatly from clotheslines, burnt-out cars litter the streets, and sometimes it stinks, as the CACTF has an odor producing system similar to those used in department stores.

“If you’ve been to Abercrombie & Fitch and go ‘Man, where’s that smell coming from?’ They have a blower unit. You put a cartridge in it. We have everything from vomit, to burning rubber, to dead bodies, to sewer smells, to apple pie,” Stokes said. “This helps put another stressor on the Soldier training out there. It is one more thing to help them concentrate on their mission.”

Soldiers can maneuver through the underground sewer system to infiltrate the town or to root out cunning insurgents. Even though it is perfectly clean, it still smells like a sewer, the odor of which was simulated during previous exercises.

The facility has been such a success, Swallows said, it has been used by government agencies statewide, including Air Force security police and pararescue personnel, the Alaska State Troopers and the Fairbanks police and fire departments.

Most recently, AST special emergency response teams from Fairbanks, the Kenai Peninsula and Soldotna partnered with Air Force SPs from Eielson Air Force Base to carry out close quarters battle training at the CACTF.

According to Piscoya, the CACTF is the only show in town.

“It’s the only facility in Fairbanks in which we can simulate the real world,” he said.

Click on images to enlarge

A gutted school bus rests on a CACTF street.

A gutted school bus rests on a CACTF street. Many of the facility's props have been requisitioned from DRMO or have been donated. Items such as vehicles, furniture and scents are used to create a realistic training environment.

A joint Air Force security police/Alaska State Trooper State Emergency Response Team stacks at a door in preparation to clear a hallway during training at the Fort Wainwright Joseph P. Martinez Combined Arms Collective Training Facility.

A joint Air Force security police/Alaska State Trooper State Emergency Response Team stacks at a door in preparation to clear a hallway during training at the Fort Wainwright Joseph P. Martinez Combined Arms Collective Training Facility.

A joint Air Force SP/Alaska State Trooper SERT fire team prepares to enter and clear a building at the CACTF. The facility is used by government agencies across Alaska to prepare personnel for real-world scenarios, to include Air Force pararescue personnel and the Fairbanks police and fire departments.

A joint Air Force SP/Alaska State Trooper SERT fire team prepares to enter and clear a building at the CACTF. The facility is used by government agencies across Alaska to prepare personnel for real-world scenarios, to include Air Force pararescue personnel and the Fairbanks police and fire departments.