The United States Army gave up its jungle training school in Panama in 1999 when the U.S. returned land there to the Panamanian government. A couple years later jungle training was all but phased out in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks as the Army focused money and manpower on preparing soldiers to fight in the mountainous desert terrains of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Now, surviving and fighting in tropical rainforests has once again recaptured the Army’s interest and sparked the launch of its first jungle training school in decades located some 30 miles inland from Hawaii's Waikiki Beach. Per the AP:
Brig. Gen. Stephen Michael, deputy commander of the 25th Infantry Division, said the Army set up the school as its footprint was shrinking in Iraq and Afghanistan after more than a decade of war in those countries.
“The jungle school gives us that focus, it reinforces that we’re in the Pacific,” Michael said. “If you’re in the 25th, you understand you got to fight in the tough environment of the Pacific.”
Of course, as we pointed out earlier, Trump released his first budget blueprint this morning that included massive cuts to several departments, albeit with one notable exception...
And, as Staff Sgt. Ascencion Lopez points out, Hawaii's new jungle school is going to need every bit of their allocation of that incremental funding as the U.S. Army "has to relearn everything" about jungle warfare from the development of new uniforms all the way down to how to carry modern equipment and protect against deadly infections.
First it needed instructors. The Army sent soldiers to military jungle schools in Brazil, Brunei and other tropical spots to reacquire long-lost skills. Instructors-in-training poured over old Army jungle manuals.
“We had to relearn everything,” said Staff Sgt. Ascencion Lopez, who was one of the first instructors at the school, which is part of the 25th Infantry Division’s Lightning Academy.
The soldiers quickly discovered their existing uniforms stood out among the trees and the fabric took too long to dry. The Army is currently developing a new uniform and boots specifically for the jungle. Instructors in Hawaii are testing out some early models.
The soldiers have also had to adjust how they carry their ammunition, canteens and other gear. In the desert, soldiers frequently strap gear on their chests so it’s accessible while riding vehicles. But instructors recommend soldiers carry gear on their sides in the jungle so it won’t get caught on roots and vines while they’re maneuvering on the forest ground.
“The minute your feet go, you’re done. You’re not going to be able to function in the jungle,” Lopez said.
Soldiers must also develop the mental stamina to persevere in a place where they’re constantly wet, thick vegetation can hide the enemy and deadly animals may be lurking. (Though soldiers are spared threatening animals in Hawaii as the state has no snakes and the only native land mammal is a small, rare bat.)
“Soldiers that aren’t as mentally tough — they’re either going to find their toughness or they won’t. But the jungle doesn’t care either way,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Johnson, another instructor.
And while Brian Price, a professor in diplomacy and military studies at Hawaii Pacific University, said the Army is simply training in the jungle so it will be ready just in case some future crisis demands it...one has to wonder why preparations for combat in these regions of the world suddenly became a priority for the U.S. Army again.