Spc. Nathan Taylors first try at a Muslim call to prayer sounded pretty solid for an American soldier with Scandinavian roots.
Allahu Akbar, sang the Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier, repeating the Arabic phrase for God is great in a passable imitation of a neighborhood imam in Afghanistan.
His cue drew a couple dozen Stryker infantrymen similarly dressed in traditional Afghan vests and caps at a fake village near Roy. They awkwardly raised their arms to the sky and kneeled on rocky earth to pray, some laughingly uttering the durka, durka, durka sounds Taliban characters make in South Park cartoons.
Their routine lacked the elegance of an experienced imams call, but it had the right effect for a battlefield observation exercise staged for Afghanistan-bound soldiers at Lewis-McChord this month.
They put on the trappings of Afghan life in preparation for the Muslim culture that they will be immersed in this fall when they deploy to Kandahar province with the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
The Army calls it Advance Situational Awareness Training. Soldiers spent several days learning subtle schemes that insurgents use to fool and harm friendly forces. Trainers took the ploys directly from intelligence reports describing the enemys latest tactics.
See a scuffle at a marketplace, for example?
Dont be distracted; keep your eye on the shady characters dropping bottles near a soccer field. Theyre leaving markers in plain sight for bomb makers.
Taylor, who served in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division, called it some of the most valuable training hes received in the run-up to this deployment.
We spend all this money on equipment, but were not spending money on reinforcing the human mind, said Taylor, 27, an Iraq veteran heading to Afghanistan for the first time.
In the complicated, multihour scenarios, soldiers observed normal behavior like the prayer Taylor led, and looked for anomalies that might reveal something amiss. Those cues, such as body language and the movements of local leaders, can convey to Afghan civilians when Taliban fighters are moving among them.
Any time theres an attack, there are indicators before it takes place, said Capt. John McAdams of the brigades headquarters company. We almost never pick up on them.
These soldiers from JBLM are on course to serve one of the last conventional combat tours in the Afghanistan War. Its a familiar job for the 4th Brigade it was the last combat brigade to leave Iraq but in an entirely new setting.
After twice deploying to Iraq in the last five years, this will be the brigades first trip to Afghanistan.
Nearly 90 percent of its 4,000 soldiers have never served there, and 44 percent will be going to war for the first time. A little more than 400 soldiers in the brigade have been to Afghanistan on prior assignments.
Theyre heading there at a complicated moment. No matter who wins the November presidential election, U.S. forces are on a course to draw down their conventional fighting elements by 2014.
Fewer than 70,000 American service members are in Afghanistan today, down from nearly 100,000 a year ago. Its not clear yet how many Western troops will be in Afghanistan next summer, when the Lewis-McChord Stryker soldiers start to come home.