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Army conducts live-fire combined arms exercise at Fort Bliss

Operation Iron Focus is an annual division-level exercise held in order to test unit coordination as well as equipment- and soldier-readiness in the dry desert climate outside Fort Bliss, Texas.

By Fred Lambert

FORT BLISS, Texas, April 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. Army on Thursday concluded a large-scale combined arms exercise utilizing live rounds in the desert terrain of Texas and New Mexico to test unit readiness for large-scale conventional operations as well as smaller counterinsurgency efforts.

Operation Iron Focus is held annually by the 1st Armored Division, which is based out of Fort Bliss, Texas. The exercise went from March 23 to April 2 and saw soldiers from the division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, the Combat Aviation Brigade and the 15th Sustainment Brigade using aircraft, tracked vehicles and ground troops to maneuver from Fort Bliss to training sites in New Mexico and Texas.

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The objective was to use these combined elements to advance on faux enemy forces -- using live rounds -- and bring stability to a mock civilian population. The operation saw the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, attack helicopters and mortar fire.

"This kind of level of integration doesn't happen in all training events and it took a lot of coordination and a lot of effort," Maj. Raymond V. Pemberton, the division's deputy intelligence officer, told the Fort Bliss Bugle.

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Over 6,000 soldiers from Fort Bliss joined Army aviation units from Colorado and Air Force units from Louisiana, making this year's Iron Focus the largest ever held.

The large-scale conventional focus is designed to get back to what Maj. Gen. Stephen Twitty, the 1st AD commander, calls the "blocking and tackling of war fighting" after 13 years of urban counterinsurgency.

Still, a training town in Fort Bliss -- with troops role-playing as insurgents and residents -- allowed soldiers to practice the same sorts of missions encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Soldiers dealt with harsh effects from the desert climate on their equipment as well as local wildlife. A solider was reportedly medivacked after a possible snake bite.

One soldier died during the exercise: Capt. Jonathan Wynkoop, 27, of Mumee, Ohio, was killed early Thursday when a mine resistant all-terrain vehicle back up over his cot while he slept. The Afghanistan veteran was a husband and a father of three; the incident is under investigation.

"My sole focus, being a division commander, is to get this division ready to fight no matter where around the world," Twitty told WFAA. "And if you look around the globe today there's a lot of uncertainty."

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