The extensive US operations in Iraq, and to a lesser extent Afghanistan, have meant that US forces had to learn to do something they really didn’t want to- fight in urbanized terrain. Fighting in cities is hard, it takes a lot of manpower, it usually costs a lot of casualties, and a lot of civilians tend to get killed. So for many years, the services just kind of pretended that they wouldn’t have to do it. Oh, there were some half-hearted attempts to pretend there was a doctrine in place for it, and that the troops were trained for it. But really? No. Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain (MOUT) got lip service at best.
One of the real challenges of realistic training for MOUT is that there just aren’t a lot of places to train. I mean, if you want to practice tank/mech infantry warfare, you just need a lot of open space. But to train to fight in a city, you need, well, a city! And building those facilities isn’t cheap.
At Ft. Carson, a base home to more than a division of troops, in the 1990s, the sum total of MOUT training facilities was 3 or 4 cinder block two story structures less than the size of a middle class house. Given that Ft. Carson’s troop units next fight would be in downtown Baghdad, it would seem the lack of realistic urban training was a great disservice to our troops.
With that critical shortage of training facilities staring them in the face, and with the urban nature of combat in Iraq becoming more and more apparent every day, the Army in the first few years of the Iraq War sought frantically to find places to train troops for the unique challenges of MOUT.
One innovative approach was to use surplus property. In Indiana, the states former “Development Center” (formerly the Indiana Farm Colony for Feeble Minded Youth) was closed, and it residents placed in community settings*. This surplus facility was then turned over to the Indiana National Guard, and became the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center. The large number and variety of buildings, while not perfect, were a vast improvement over having nothing at all to train with.
While the facility is now run by the Indiana National Guard, it is used by a wide variety of organizations. In addition to military units, police and other civil agencies use its facilities to train for law enforcement and disaster relief operations.
There are other efforts still underway to increase the number and scope of facilities for training troops to fight in urban settings. But this is surely one of the cheaper alternatives around.
*No, the challenged youth of Indiana were not evicted to make way for the callous killers of the military. The policy decision had previously been made to reintegrate the MSDC residents into community settings and close the facility. Only then was the decision made to turn it over to the IARNG.
And this post was made mostly because I really, really found myself enjoying saying “Muscatatuck” over and over again. Try it, you’ll see what I mean.