FORT POLK, LA – The operational environment faced by today’s Army includes an urban element — fighting in cities. That’s why the Army decided to build a training village at the Joint Readiness Training Center in the 1990s.
In honor of that facility and the two fallen heroes that are its namesake, a memorial ceremony was held at the Shughart-Gordon MOUT (military operation on urban terrain) site Oct. 3 — the anniversary of Shughart and Gordon’s ultimate sacrifice.
Named for Heroes
The Shughart-Gordon MOUT site was named for Medal of Honor recipients Sgt. 1st Class Randall D. Shughart and Master Sgt. Gary I. Gordon, for their actions on Oct. 3, 1993.
Shughart and Gordon served as snipers within the United States Army Special Operations Command with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia. During the mission they provided precision fires from the lead helicopter during an assault and at two helicopter crash sites, while subjected to intense automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade fires. They volunteered to insert into a crash site to assist the downed pilots knowing they faced an overwhelming force and reinforcements were unlikely. Both men were killed by enemy forces, fighting until they were out of ammunition.One Soldier that served with Shughart and Gordon is retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Randolph W. Jones. He is a master aviator, served in Vietnam and Kuwait in addition to Mogadishu, and was selected as the 1993 MacDonald-Douglas-Hughes Aviator of the Year for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
Jones accepted an invitation to speak at the memorial ceremony held at the MOUT site Oct. 3 and offered his recollections of his comrades-in-arms.
“It’s a hard day to smile, but a wonderful day to be an American,” he said. “During times of need in this great nation, there have been men like Randy and Gary that have stood in the way of harm for their fellow man. I was truly lucky on that mission day — we were 148 strong. Eighteen were killed in the skirmish, and we lost another Soldier shortly thereafter. There were 78 Purple Hearts. The odds that day, from my viewpoint, were at least 100 to one, and these Soldiers didn’t back up one foot.
“There were 41 Silver Stars (awarded) for that (battle), several bronze stars and two Medals of Honor (for Shughart and Gordon). The substantiation of those awards was well founded. The reward of those awards is that we are all here today, in America, free to do what we want. I truly miss each of these young, brave Soldiers (who died that day), and I pray for their families and children. And I thank each of you for coming today and for the invitation. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this many brothers in arms around me.”
After the playing of the national anthem and Taps, Col. David W. Gardner, commander of Operations Group, approached the podium that was placed beside two large photos of Shughart and Gordon, flanking the memorial plaque that bears their names.
“Is there anything more powerful than to stand here, at attention, rendering honors to our flag during the national anthem, having these two legendary Americans stare you right in the eye?” he said. “What a bar they have set for all of us. They exemplified the Ranger creed of ‘I will not leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy.’”
MOUT Site Early Days
James Evins, MOUT site facility manager, said the Army recognized an uptick in the trend of fighting in urban environments. Estimates show that 22 percent of the world’s conflicts took place in large urban areas in 1950, increasing to 50 percent in 1998 and up to 75 percent in 2010.
“In the early 1990s, it was mandated that because 50 percent of the world’s fighting was in cities versus jungles and deserts, the Army needed to train in urban settings,” said Evins. “The concept was adopted in 1991 and construction began here in 1991-1992.”
Once the basic structures were in place, someone had to put in the details to make the city look and work realistically. Marty Martinson, currently the Fort Polk CACTF (Combined Arms Collective Training Facility) manager, was there when the MOUT site was just beginning operations.
“In 1993, the Chief of Staff of the Army determined that Soldiers needed to have more training on urban operations,” said Martinson. “He tasked Operations Group with building a premiere MOUT training facility at JRTC.”
Part of Martinson’s duties in standing up the facility was to ensure the buildings were somewhat furnished with tables, chairs, desks, beds and other furniture.
“We ended up with 18 flatbed trucks full of furniture that had to be placed,” he said. “We got a detail to help us unload everything and set up the city.”
One of the features that made the new MOUT site a state-of-the-art facility was the placement of cameras, microphones and speakers. These allowed units to see recordings of their actions and aided in simulating battlefield effects during training.
With 29 buildings and an underground tunnel in its complement, the facility incorporated pop-up and swing-out targets, smoke effects, an observation tower and the use of role-players to enhance realism.
“We had a bunch of role players back then for the force-on-force missions. They would do their jobs, working in the clinics, kitchens, hotels, municipal buildings, and Geronimo (1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment, tasked to play the opposing force during rotations) would be out there doing what they do,” said Martinson. “The (rotational) missions were usually clearing buildings and there was a high-value target or item in there that they had to retrieve. Geronimo would take over the city, and (rotational units) had to come in and take it back.”
Four of the 29 buildings were capable of accommodating live fire events using short range training ammunition — sometimes called plastic bullets — but that name is dangerously deceiving, said Martinson.
“When it was initially built, we used SRTA (short range training ammunition) rounds, and we only trained platoon-sized elements,” he said. “The 7.62 (bullet) has a metal core, so when it comes out of the weapon, it’s really metal covered in plastic. There are big holes at Shughart-Gordon where these (rounds) shot through the concrete.”
The ammunition can be deadly, but is considered less dangerous than live rounds because it mitigates the likelihood of ricochet.
Martinson, then a sergeant first class, was part of a four-man team that first ran the MOUT site and eventually became the non-commissioned officer in charge. “I was the NCOIC when the MOUT facility was dedicated (to Shughart-Gordon in 1994).”
In those days, more live fires were done at Fort Polk than at Peason Ridge, Martinson said. “It was just a totally different kind of fight. I think they are trying to get back into some of that now, but back then we didn’t have all these nice things like cell phones and computers — we had squad radios and walkie-talkies — things have changed since then.”
The facility now includes 31 buildings (including an after action review theater with seating for 50), 19 outdoor cameras, 618 inside cameras (all with 24-hour day/night surveillance, 100 percent coverage and 360 degree rotation), 25 portable smoke generators, concussion cannons, rooftop and gas station explosive devices, portable .50 caliber machine gun fire replication, battlefield smell generators (garbage, sewage, mustard gas, meth lab, bombs, corpses, cyanide), customizable audio capabilities for every room and outdoor speakers to simulate specific noises (children playing, traffic, sounds of war, Arabic music, news broadcasts and more) and a cast of role-players to suit any scenario.
“The number of role-players is determined by the scenario, and can vary from 30 or 40 to 100 to 200,” said Evins.
“They dress and play the part of the indigenous people of the country the rotation is training for, and even have goats and donkeys to mill around the city as they would in country.” There’s a team of pyrotechnic specialists called “firemarkers” that place charges to replicate indirect fire from mortars or grenades, improvised explosive devices and missiles.
Evins said the MOUT site facilitates training scenarios to include force-on-force, situational training exercises, live fires and any other training scenarios developed by leaders and trainers. A recent refresh upgraded the analogue video system to high-definition digital recording, which offers clearer pictures, faster streaming and more memory.
“This is the Army’s premiere training facility,” said Evins. “It is primarily used by JRTC to train units deploying to hostile areas around the world. It is also used by tenant units on Fort Polk, all of the Department of Defense and local and regional law enforcement agencies.”
The importance of the Shughart-Gordon training area and the legacy of the heroes who died in Somalia live on, said Gardner.
“Hundreds of thousands of Soldiers have trained here,” Gardner said. “We carry the names of Shughart and Gordon with us not because their actions 25 years ago remind us to live by the Ranger Creed, but because we have sweat and bled in this place to prevent more October 3rds in the future.”