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OPFOR makes the difference

By Sgt. Kimberly Browne | 350th Public Affairs Detachment | May 23, 2016

May 8, 2016 — JOLON, Calif. – There are various sayings and acronyms among the members of the U.S. Army such as “if it’s not raining we aren’t training,” “take a knee and drink water,” and “train as we fight.” Train as we fight is typically the operative of the three and it is a means of attaining the standard. Nevertheless, to train to standard Soldiers need a method and that method is sometimes an opposing force, or better known as OPFOR.

Therefore, Soldiers with the 422nd Military Police Company, 11th MP Brigade, 200th MP Command, served as the insurgent force during a route-clearance and medical training exercise at Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., May 7.

The Soldiers who received suppression from the OPFOR have two objectives within the mission; check the civilian contractor’s progress at a bridge and the bridge’s serviceability then secure a one-gallon sample of water from a well to test if it is potable or not. All the while, making contact with insurgent forces, or OPFOR.

According to Army Regulation 350-2, operational environment and OPFOR in U.S. Army training is intended to provide commanders with a realistic training environment within the operational training field, against an uncompromising foe. It also states the use of OPFOR in training events is intended to improve realistic training by enabling operations against a non-cooperative, free-thinking, and capability-based adversary or enemy.

“If the OPFOR is good and they are going to put pressure on the friendlies, then that is going to reinforce those good [Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures],” said Capt. Andrew Gallagher, a native of Fresno, Calif. and battle captain for the 91st Training Division. “It’s kind of like steel hardening other steel.”

This type of training enables commanders and leadership to fully realize the consequences of their decisions in ‘real-time’ within the mission.

“Having an enemy that knows how we’re going to react to contact … is going to put that much more pressure on them, but it’s also going to expose you if you’re not doing the right thing,” Gallagher said.

The use of OPFOR during a training exercise creates a real-world scenario for those Soldiers training and it is a means for measuring their reaction and readiness.

“Our focus is to get them to use Army tactics, engage us and take out the enemy before they start taking care of the casualty and make sure they know how to eliminate the enemy and react to fire,” said Sgt. 1st Class Steven Alvarez, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of OPFOR and with the 91st Training Division. “Our unit is assisting in that by making the training more realistic. Instead of going through stick lanes and pretending that there is an enemy and yelling, bang bang.”

During their mission the OPFOR created casualties in the operational environment and simulated a down helicopter.

“This is pretty much a [Medical Evacuation] lane, so they’re going to see how they react to treating a casualty down at the chopper and how they do it while taking contact,” said Spc. Eli Calderon, an OPFOR insurgent and combat engineer with the 422nd MP Co., and native of Ridgecrest, Calif.

Nevertheless, the Soldiers participating in the lanes are not the only ones receiving training and training to standard, the OPFOR is as well.

“This training helps the OPFOR’s readiness by when they engage they are using their squad tasks and moving as a unit to engage their target,” Alvarez said.

Soldiers chosen as insurgents get to see things from a different perspective while conducting the mission.

“It gives the Soldiers an opportunity to look at it from the other side and knowing that when it is your turn you know what to do,” said Sgt. 1st Class James Wardle, an OPFOR casualty and combat engineer with the 570th Sapper Company, 864th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Eventually, upon completion of Sergeant’s Time Training and the ins-and-outs of training to standard, participating in a mission where OPFOR is involved gives way to the combination of all training tactics and a finality, or a polishing, to training to standard.

“Just seeing how everything has that symbiotic relationship, where you can’t do one without the other and you’re going to experience each of those throughout the battle,” Gallagher said. “It’s good to the see the evolution the units go through.”

Ultimately, the OPFOR Soldiers created the casualties by harassing their opposition with M16 semi-automatic rifle fire and artillery simulators creating a realistic threat.Therefore, conjuring the stress and anxiety in each Soldier as a real-world situation would. Thus, giving the unit a standard to attain and a means to see their strengths and weaknesses.