Urban combat training center will be Army's largest
Leschi Town at Fort Lewis will have room for 600 troops

The Olympian


FORT LEWIS -- Military officials say a new urban combat training center planned at this sprawling base south of Tacoma will be the largest of its kind in the Army.
Leschi Town, as it's to be named, will be laid out like a city, complete with a police station, city hall, a simulated power station and enough room for 600 troops -- part of a six-year, $400 million plan to improve the Army's urban fighting capabilities.

"It used to be our doctrine that we would avoid urban combat, we would bypass the city," said Maj. Jim Lechner, a battalion executive officer in the 1st Stryker Brigade at the 86,000-acre base.

"Now the enemy realizes that that's the best place for them," Lechner said. "The reality is we're going to have to fight in cities."

The center will be built about a mile north of Roy.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing bids and is expected to award a contract for construction of the new center by next month. Construction would begin almost immediately, said John Weller, the range control officer at Fort Lewis.

Budgeted at $35 million for construction and equipment, Leschi Town is expected to be available for training next December after the first phase of construction. The rest of the work is slated for completion by the fall of 2004.

The village will be more than a half-mile long, with as many as 54 buildings. A three-story city hall will have an interior atrium, offering defenders ample cover and clear shots at anyone entering on the ground floor below.

Soldiers will be able to cut the lights to the whole town at a simulated power station. The police station will have cells in the basement, and a concrete canal will run through the west end of town.

The center will be wired with five miles of fiber optic cable. Cameras mounted throughout the village will allow trainers to view the exercises.

"A guy who goes to a doorway and gets shot in the chest by a paintball round, there are things he's going to learn from that," said Lechner, who was shot in the leg in Mogadishu, Somalia, in October 1993. He was a fire support officer with Bravo Company, 3rd Ranger Battalion -- one of the units portrayed in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down."

"To be able to watch those films, watch that feedback, is incredibly helpful," Lechner said. "Leschi Town is going to be a great asset for learning those kinds of lessons."

Before the mid-1990s, intensive urban training was reserved mainly for Special Operations soldiers such as the Rangers.

But based on U.S. experiences in Somalia and the Balkans, and the Russian Army's bitter campaign in Chechnya in 1994-95, strategists realized they needed to reach all combat troops, not just Special Ops.

"We recognized that urban operations in the new century was not going to be a facet of tactics -- it might be the tactic," said Tom Macia, the Army's range program manager at the Pentagon. "Unconventional threats live in urban areas for their own protection. They're not armies out in the field."

Existing urban-combat training centers are geared mostly for training smaller groups of soldiers. Leschi Town -- named after the legendary chief of the Nisqually Indians -- will be big enough to accommodate an entire battalion at once.

Everything -- walls, fences, landscaping, dead-end streets and concrete picnic tables -- will be designed "to offer a wide variety of problems" for the soldiers who train there, said Greg Eastman, the site manager.

Most training will be done with standard laser-tag gear, though Weller said some exercises might be conducted with training ammunition that disintegrates on impact or bullets that work like paint-ball rounds.

On the Web
Fort Lewis: www.lewis.army.mil


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