My Unit is Going to JRTC, What Should I Know?

I’ve received multiple questions from friends asking about advice for their upcoming JRTC rotations. I’ve compiled some of the questions and responses below in order to help streamline the process. 

“What do training units usually screw up when they go fight OPFOR at JRTC?”

     Complacency, and heat. Heat wont be as much of an issue if it’s the winter, but a lot of guys underestimate the OPFOR, don’t take it seriously, and then it’s just a waste of time. People also play the MILES game a lot, so you will have dudes hiding behind twigs from a .50 just because the laser can’t penetrate, so make sure guys don’t do that because it turns into bad training. Take everything seriously.
     Another thing is the gear itself. Make sure everybody is legitimately “infinity zeroed” using the zeroing box, and then take tape and tape down the adjustment knobs on the emitter so they don’t move. Also make sure everybody is syncing their weapons to their harnesses. Dudes will burn through a mag and get pissed they didn’t hit anybody, when their rifle wasn’t even emitting a laser because it wasn’t synced. Once you zero, make sure they let you confirm by shooting dudes at different ranges. Don’t be afraid to call up the MILES techs on FM comms. They literally get paid to fix your problems, and they can be a huge aid. 
     The best advice is to simply take the OPFOR seriously, and try to get some good training out of it. A lot of guys show up with a bad attitude, because let’s face it, nobody want’s to go to Polk. Having a bad attitude however will suck the training value out of the rotation if you don’t take it seriously. A lot of guys are also used to fighting the middle eastern fight, and are no longer acclimated to conventional operations. Take noise and light discipline seriously. The OPFOR are as near peer as it gets. 1/509th is a parachute infantry battalion, with thermals, dual tube nods, and everything else that a normal infantry unit has. Additionally, they are very loose on what equipment can be used, and guys go kind of crazy with it.
     Take hydration seriously. Do whatever you can to acclimate yourself to the heat and humidity, even if that’s just sitting in the sauna a couple times a week before hand. It will suck the life out of you, and any foot patrols or infils will be miserable enough for acclimated guys, and can be deadly for those who aren’t. People legitimately die at JRTC. It’s just a thing that happens. Whether it be a vehicle incident, parachute malfunction, or heat injury that couldn’t be treated, if you treat it like a game, it will bite you.
     Essentially just treat it like the real thing. Don’t do anything that would get you killed if you were fighting a real enemy force, because that’s essentially what you will be facing. I know that’s kind of vague advice, but it’s the best advice I can give. The units that get absolutely destroyed, usually get destroyed because they showed up to JRTC overly confident, and/or used relaxed tactics that work against muj. That doesn’t fly when you are fighting other Americans.
     Make sure you blow your dudes out of the water if they start playing “laser tag”. I’ve seen a lot of guys blow off machine gun positions and other stuff, bunch up, use concealment as cover because it stops lasers, and make a plethora of stupid mistakes because there was no real threat. Remind your older guys that the newer privates need this experience to learn, because they may or may not have deployment time that the older guys have. Start working on camo if that’s a lost skill in your section. Know when to drop helmets and armor, etc… Conventional fighting, especially in Lousiana heat, doesn’t always necessitate or facilitate the full armor setups that we’ve been wearing overseas for the last 15 years, and breaking that habit will help you out in the long run.
     Comfort is also important. Keep some spare cash on you in case you ever get stuck in a town with roleplayers. Get on their good side, treat it like a real KLE type environment, and they will often hook you up with home cooked food or coffee at the cafes every town has for a small donation.

     While you want to treat the “box” like a real combat environment, there are some idiosyncrasies that are unique to JRTC. OPFOR vehicles are one thing that tends to throw people off. While a standard Soviet vehicle identification chart is a good thing to memorize, the OPFOR vehicles often look much different than the vehicles they are supposed to represent. Knowing the specifics before hand will make accurate “in game” reporting much more accurate and concise.

“What’s the terrain like?”

Well, it’s kind of a swamp, and kind of just a massive pine forest filled with every known poisonous creature. Mostly flat with a few slight hilly areas. Assume all of the low lands is going to be marshy. It mostly looks like Mordor in the winter. The impact area is huge and pretty easy to wander into, so keep that in mind. Additionally there are a lot of really sandy areas on the north end of Geronimo DZ near the town up there, I think it’s called either Turani or Tofani, one of the two. It’s terrible to walk through and bad for vehicles as well. Make sure you do proper map recon, and feel free to ask the roleplayers for “local knowledge”, without giving them specifics about your movements. They WILL tell OPFOR if they are a “red” town.


     The temps aren’t too bad, but the humidity is always super high which makes it feel worse than it is, whether it be cold or hot. August time frame is absolutely miserable. Packing a good combat shirt or three is about the best thing you can do, no matter the season, as you will always be sweating due to heat, or wet and cold due to humidity. The ability to quickly dry a combat shirt is a lifesaver, in addition to packing multiple pairs of high quality socks. I typically wore wool socks year round, even during the summer, and typically paired them with low cut hiking boots, if that’s something your chain of command will allow. If hiking boots aren’t on the horizon, the Nike SFBs, or OTB style 670-1 boots are phenomenal, because while they will get wet, they also dry out quickly, no matter the weather. Avoid anything waterproof on your feet, as sweat or external wetness will just pool up and make you miserable.

“What gear should I bring?”

     Light gear. Seriously. JRTC is a light infantryman’s war, and having something that’s light and breathable is paramount to comfort when operating in that environment. Many of the OPFOR will use belt based rigs, (modern takes on the old ALICE system), which allows you to carry everything you need regardless of armor, and also keeps your chest and back open for better circulation, as well as more comfortable when wearing a ruck or assault pack. I personally preferred using Nalgenes or water bottles to Camelbaks for the same reason, as the Camelbak has a tendency to retain heat and leak, wrecking your back for the duration of the rotation. For food, I typically carried a large amount of ramen, jerky, and canned fish. I’d eat the ramen dry, along with the seasoning, (salt helps with your electrolytes), and everything was light and compact so I could carry several weeks worth of food in a single ruck, along with my other necessary gear.

“I heard the OPFOR are jerks/cheaters”

     Typically, we will only be jerks if you are a jerk to us. If you remember that at the end of the day, we are still on the same team, and treat us like fellow soldiers, we will help you out if we can. I would often give away extra food, Monsters, cold water, and tobacco to training unit soldiers who were having a bad time, assuming they treated me like a soldier and not like some sort of nondeployed hack.

1/509th, while technically a deployable unit, doesn’t often deploy, but that doesn’t mean that everyone wearing green is a cherry. Many soldiers show up to JRTC with a chip on their shoulder, and feel like it’s a great time to make cracks at the OPFOR guys.

Wrong answer.

You never know who you’re talking to, and pissing off the only person in between you and a cold bottle of water when you’re in 98 degree temps probably isn’t the best thing to do.

As for the cheater accusation, it gets thrown out a lot. Ultimately, OPFOR has a lot to lose if they get caught cheating. Every OPFOR soldier is issued an EXROE book when they sign into the unit, and they are expected to study it for the duration of their term there. OPFOR soldiers can, and have, been given article 15s or other punishments for flaunting EXROE and other “box” rules. Stop overestimating your own abilities. While cheaters do exist, there isn’t a massive OPFOR conspiracy to win every single engagement. Even if we get “killed”, we still have to come right back out and play again the very next month, so we have no incentive to win all the time.

90% of the cheating accusations I’ve personally witnessed stemmed from an overestimation of their own skill, some sort of technical problem with the MILES gear that they didn’t understand, embarrassment because of their own unit’s lack of security posture, or a lack of understanding when it comes to EXROE. Just read the book, learn as much as you can, and stop assuming you’re better than everyone. OPFOR literally knows the training area like the back of their hand, and they do this on a monthly basis. It’s a tough fight, so best to be humble and just take your lumps when they come without bruising your own ego.

     Additionally, OPFOR soldiers, when an OC/T isn’t around, are considered the subject matter experts on EXROE. If the senior G-Man on the ground is a PFC, and there’s no OC/T present, he is well within his rights to “white hat” and conduct administrative measures, even if that means lecturing a SFC on how he just broke EXROE. Rank doesn’t matter when dealing with OPFOR soldiers in the box. Live it, learn it, love it.
“What’s with all these weird vehicles?”
     OPFOR uses a variety of visually modified US vehicles to stand in for Soviet tech. Below are pictures of those vehicles and what they are supposed to represent, in addition to a quick list of capabilities that those vehicles have.
quick sheet
     Overall, JRTC can be an overwhelming, toilsome, and ultimately educational experience, but it requires a certain mindset and level of preparation to fully appreciate. At the end of the day, you are a tiny wheel on a big machine. Spending two weeks guarding a road with no action might not be very exciting, should you have to do something similar, but the training isn’t necessarily for YOU, it’s for the higher levels of leadership to put the big war machine of a brigade sized element into action, and see how it all works out without real blood.
Take advantage of your time, do your job, be safe, and come home with some knowledge and stories about how much you hate it. OPFOR will go back out on the next rotation.

If you have any specific questions, feel free to contact me. Keep in mind my information grows more dated by the minute, but I’ll still attempt to help.


2 thoughts on “My Unit is Going to JRTC, What Should I Know?

  1. Very good explantion of a rotation. As a role player I love the experience. I relish the contact with our soldiers and I especially enjoy security checkpoints. The worst experience that constantly pops up is both attitude and not taking it seriously.


  2. JRTC approached correctly is “the Super Bowl” for the Light Infantry. While my experience is somewhat dated (Chaffee!), your list is as appropriate now as it was then, The only thing I would add is to be open to opportunities: try the unconventional and the unexpected, it can pay off handsomely.


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