A large military exercise at Donnelly Training Area, just outside Delta Junction, is preparing Alaska’s soldiers for their next war.

Roughly 5,000 personnel are taking part in Arctic Anvil, which focuses on army versus army fighting, rather than army versus insurgents. That’s who U.S. soldiers have been fighting for the past 15 years, but as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, the U.S. Army is changing the way it trains.

Arctic Anvil has been a challenge for the commanders of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division (1/25), one of the units taking part in the exercise. They’re planning a different war than they’re used to. This time the enemy, played by the Iowa National Guard, is just as well-trained and equipped as they are. That means more casualties when the forces come head to head.

“As of this morning, we are around 50 killed in action, I think somewhere about half that wounded in action,” said Capt. Adam Bowen, the 1/25 public affairs officer.

Rather than look at the number, Bowen said the focus is now bigger picture.

“Looking at it holistically as to what terrain do we now capture and do we hold the initiative on the battle field, that really determines who’s winning,” he said.

While the commanders are planning the war, they’re being watched by the people running Arctic Anvil — the trainers with the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Capability (JPMRC), based in Hawaii. They bring the exercise to the home base of the soldiers they’re training.

“We can see in real time where everybody is so 100 percent situational awareness of the battlefield,” said Col. Scott Mitchell, commander of the 196th Infantry Brigade and the JPMRC.

On a big digital map of the battlefield, they can see where everyone is, the good guys and the bad, where they’re going and what’s coming next. Mitchell said that’s what makes this training so effective, especially when talking with the soldiers after the action is over.

“Here’s what happened, so we don’t have to have that discussion anymore,” Mitchell explained. “Let’s talk about why that happened and how we can do better.”

The soldiers on the battlefield and the commanders overseeing them are basically fighting themselves, which is another reason, they say, they’re learning so much.

“If you’re going to have a practice war, you want it to be the A team versus the A team,” Bowen said.

KTVA 11’s Bonney Bowman can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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