Panama center training jungle warriors

by Staff Sgt. Brian Thomas

FORT SHERMAN, Panama, (Army News Service, May 20, 1998) -- Fact: More than 13 million square kilometers of jungle are found in areas of the world where the U.S. military operates.

Fact: The U.S. Army's Jungle Operations Training Center trains soldiers in jungle warfare year-round for $5.7 million a year.

Fact: The Jungle Operations Training Center closes June 30, 1999, in compliance with the Carter-Torrijos Treaty.

For more than 40 years, the cadre at Fort Sherman's jungle school has trained soldiers from the United States and around the world to fight and survive in the jungle.

"Jungle comprises a substantial portion of the earth's land mass -- jungle environments are prominent in South America, Asia and Africa," said Maj. Gregory V. Barrack, executive officer for the Jungle Operations Training Battalion. "In a relatively compact training area, the JOTC at Fort Sherman provides virtually a full range of jungle terrain and vegetation -- tall grass lands, mountains, swamps, blue and brown water, single and double canopy jungle."

With its signature three-week Jungle Warfare Course, JOTC trains 11 U.S. Army light infantry, Ranger and Marine infantry battalions, more than 7,000 soldiers, per year. Soldiers are taught the basics of jungle survival, including waterborne training, in the first week, then advance to squad, platoon, company and battalion-size exercises over the next two weeks.

In addition, more than 1,000 soldiers a year are taught the basics of jungle warfare to serve as the opposing forces for the rotational battalions.

"The art of fighting in the jungle is highly perishable," Barrack said. "The JOTC impacts the Army in two ways. It provides a core cadre that is necessary for maintaining a true knowledge and teaching base for the demanding requirements of jungle operations, and it provides the Army with leaders who have brought their units to Fort Sherman and have an appreciation for the extreme difficulties of combat operations in the jungle environment."

The JOTC also teaches a 10-day AirCrew Survival Course, open to all branches of service, and a four-week Engineer Jungle Warfare Course. Foreign students come to the training center for a number of training programs, giving JOTC an international reach.

For U.S. forces, JOTC provides a training area that cannot be replicated by the military's other large training centers. Soldiers are drilled on the basics of moving and shooting, requiring them to rely on their core battle drills and basic skills.

"The jungle is the great equalizer -- a fact not lost on anyone familiar with the environment," Barrack said. "To fight in it, you have to train in it.

"The jungle is one of the only environments where U.S. forces cannot bring our vaunted technological edge to bear upon an enemy. Systems such as laser targeting, global positioning, night vision and communications either do not function at all, or function at a much-degraded performance level."

An advantage the JOTC staff provides an incoming unit is the ability to make a tailor-made training plan. Units can take the existing JOTC training plans and alter them to meet their own specific needs.

"We got great support from the JOTC commander and his cadre," said Lt. Col. Michael Ferriter, commander of 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning, Ga. His battalion trained at JOTC March 28 - April 18. "We tailored the program at squad and platoon level training, fundamentally based on the infantry battle drills of attack. They've built a solid team of professionals here, with only high-quality Special Forces, Ranger and light infantry instructors. They have done very, very well."

By virtue of the Carter-Torrijos Treaty signed in 1977, all U.S. military property will be turned over to Panama Dec. 31, 1999, as well as the Panama Canal. Fort Sherman will be included in this action, closing six months earlier on June 30. No alternative site has been selected for a jungle training school at this time.

"What we've tried to publicize to the services is that we need a jungle school in the U.S. armed forces," said Master Sgt. Joseph Callahan, team sergeant for Team Four, Company A, JOTC. "Ever since it's been here, it's been a credit to all the services. Anyone's who's gone through this can function a lot better in the jungle, and of course the time to learn jungle tactics isn't right before they're needed."

The last rotation at JOTC is scheduled to end March 27, 1999.

(Editor's note: Thomas is a writer with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.)