FT. POLK, La. — Soldiers from lands once aligned against the West deployed for the first time on U.S. soil Friday in realistic exercises designed to train troops for the dangers of peacekeeping.
In a morning-long airlift, 4,000 U.S., NATO and former Soviet bloc troops began the most realistic phase of the NATO Partnership for Peace training. The exercise involved landing on a make-believe Atlantic island torn by ethnic strife and full of terrorists, snipers and displaced civilians.
"We need to do more of what you see us doing here today," said Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who held a news conference on the porch of a shack in one of several small villages in the imaginary nation of Cortina.
A day of sometimes painfully slow maneuvers by troops from 17 nations, speaking several different languages, climaxed in a mock-violent incident at a checkpoint set up between two imaginary countries on the fictional island.
Several civilians, played by local residents, fell to the ground in splashes of fake blood as a sniper opened fire on a checkpoint, and a Hollywood-style explosion went off in a pickup truck coming from the other direction, as Slovenian troops scurried to respond and assist the victims.
Earlier, a group of civilian actors approached a U.S. soldier demanding food and water. When he told them he would send help, they responded with biting comments: "They're probably going to destroy our village . . . they take away our land and push us out . . . they are very fat."
Officers said the emphasis was on making conditions as realistic as possible, with soldiers staying in their roles for six days and five nights.
The peacekeepers are armed with weapons that trigger beepers that tell a soldier when he or she has been killed or wounded, but the aim is not to have any combat or casualties, said Gen. Mike Sherfield, overall commander of the Cooperative Nugget exercise.
Shalikashvili met with Hungarian and Slovenian troops before talking to reporters.
First Lt. Zoltan Szalai, leader of a Hungarian contingent, told the top U.S. commander that his men had different rules of engagement than the Americans.
Shalikashvili advised him not to have his men do anything they could not do in their own operations and urged that every difference be brought up so that the training could be improved.
He also urged the soldiers to take precautions in Louisiana's sweltering heat, noting that many of them would not be accustomed to such extreme conditions.
The exercises are among several to be conducted by the NATO partnership but the first to be staged in the United States. The partnership of 26 nations was set up last year to promote political and military cooperation among countries that want to join the alliance.