On the south side of Fort Carson, 1st Brigade Combat Team soldiers move deliberately through an urban assault course.
Building by building they pursue the enemy with the precision of a ballet.
"Hey, he's got a gun," the sergeant yells as his squad opens up with blanks. The mock enemy flees as the troops retake the town.
It's just what Fort Carson's commander, Maj. Gen. Randy George, wants to see - troops ready for war. Professionals, experts and athletes who can overwhelm enemies.
"That's who you want in the foxhole next to you," George said.
On the job three months, George is moving rapidly to improve the 4th Infantry Division's combat skills. With much of the division expected to head to Afghanistan next year, a future the post will not officially confirm, commanders have just months before mock combat could become the real thing.
The general isn't talking about Afghanistan, but he confirms that his division is getting ready for warfare.
"Anyone who watches the news knows it is a volatile and unpredictable world," George said.
Training for war has never been so complex. Fort Carson troops are preparing to battle top-end enemy forces and also drilling to contend with insurgent threats. Along the way, they're learning the soft skills of dealing with local officials while deployed.
George says he's focused on getting troops ready for the biggest, most powerful threats.
"If you're not good at that, you can't do the other things," he said.
Having troops mentally and physically prepared for combat is no theoretical exercise for George. He commanded Fort Carson's 4th Brigade Combat Team through a bloody, yearlong campaign in Afghanistan that cost the lives of more than three dozen soldiers.
There would have been more deaths if George's soldiers weren't trained to the highest standard, he said.
"It absolutely saves lives to be trained to that level," he said.
George's soldiers proved the value of tough training during the battle of Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan. A cavalry troop from George's brigade held off 300 Taliban attackers who rushed the canyon outpost in the Korengal Valley.
The outnumbered force held on, killing 150 enemy fighters. They lost eight of their own on Fort Carson's deadliest day since the Vietnam War and 27 soldiers, nearly half the contingent, suffered wounds. Two Fort Carson soldiers, Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha and Staff Sgt. Ty Carter earned the Medal of Honor for valor in the battle.
It was a battle that still hurts George. He regrets the loss of life. But he remembers that training won the day as his soldiers reacted to the overwhelming enemy force.
"It makes a difference on the battlefield," he said.
He says soldiers have to be disciplined and be more athletic than their foes.
He's seen combat. "There's nothing more physically demanding," he said.
George has other priorities. He wants his soldiers to have moral strength as well as muscles. He calls misconduct in the ranks including sexual harassment and assault "fratricide" - the Army's term for troops targeting their comrades on the battlefield.
"Those things tear at our fabric," he said.
The lessons George learned in Afghanistan are now being passed down on the training ranges. The post's 1st Brigade is in the middle of three weeks of mock warfare.
George wants the training to be tough and realistic.
"There's definitely a lot of stress," said Capt. Philip Hayward after he led his 1st Brigade company through the mock battle. "We have to react to a lot of complex situations."
Hayward's unit is preparing to return to the National Training Center in California for the brigade's second full-scale mock war in six months. The unit's pace of training is unprecedented for Fort Carson.
Hayward's soldiers are tired, but proud. While they can't talk about the likelihood of heading to combat in Afghanistan next year, they're approaching their drills with purpose.
The troops with the best training will win overseas, Hayward said.
"You'd be hard-pressed to find a better-trained unit," the captain said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240