The windswept high plains range land north of Belle Fourche will soon be home to a mock Afghan village that will be targeted for U.S. Air Force bomber practice missions.
The mock village will be on Bureau of Land Management property that once held a missile silo and where three Army National Guard units are now working on the project.
The training to identify the features of a typical village gives air crews insight into what has been reported from ground level and allow targeting of combatants while protecting allied forces and noncombatants.
The training includes protecting troops on the ground, a role the Northern Hills-based 842nd Engineer Company knows only too well. They returned last fall from a year in Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Jeff Sorensen of Wall was the noncommissioned officer in charge of preparing the mock village site.
Sorensen and other members of the 842nd built roads that wouldn't meet their own normal requirements, mock walled enclosures and "irrigation ditches" around a mock garden area. They should appear close to the real thing from the air.
The roads intentionally are substandard to give the appearance of what would be common in a civilian area of Afghanistan.
The 842nd also was responsible for getting 19 worn-out steel shipping containers onto the site to give Air Force bomber crews a passable equivalent of a Middle East village.
Sgt. 1st Class Rob Carr of Lead said the containers were brought from North Dakota by a South Dakota National Guard unit. They were carried to the site north of Belle Fourche by a Pennsylvania National Guard unit as part of their training with the annual Golden Coyote exercises, which ended on Saturday.
Carr said the project is designed to give Air Force flight crews training in identifying an Afghan village.
Few Americans know the look of an Afghan village better than soldiers of the 842nd. Their year of construction projects took them through different areas of the landlocked nation of high plains and mountains.
"We built berms that are supposed to represent walled compounds," Carr said. "It will look similar from the air, and it will give the feel of an Afghan village."
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Carr and Sorensen said the B-1B bomber played a big role in safety for the 842nd when they were in the field.
"When they were obvious, it got pretty quiet," Sorensen said.
The practice site is on the Air Force Powder River range where bombers and other aircraft practice for combat missions.
Carr said, "In the future, we may use that as an urban warfare training site."
The mock village is off the beaten path on a ridge reached only by gravel roads.
Air Force Maj. Damen Criswell and range manager Shawn Pyle of Ellsworth Air Force Base arrived Wednesday to give tentative approval of the village. Winds were running about 30 mph with gusts estimated at more than 40.
Criswell, a B-1B weapons systems officer, said that making the mock village from old storage containers wouldn't be a problem for practice runs. A real village would be made of other materials. The wind also would be no surprise for air crews.
Belle Fourche got some side benefits from the project, Carr said.
"We brought 56 soldiers into the new Cenex truck stop," he said. "I tried to do what I could for the Belle Fourche economy."
The Pennsylvania soldiers soon learned how different the high plains are from their home state's cities and forests.
Carr added that since the 842nd had returned home so recently, this summer's annual training initially had been set to emphasize advanced training.
About half the unit's soldiers were doing just that — but others worked on the mock village project while another group headed to Yankton to build a professional quality archery range at Lewis and Clark State Park.