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Band of Brothers--Training

We pulled out all the stops in training for the filming of Band of Brothers. We knew that making ten episodes of a story that would cover some aspect of virtually every major battle in the ETO during WW II as well as covering the training and employment of an Army airborne unit circa 1942 through 1945 would require more than just military guidance and direction. We had to raise, build and train a unit that could operate independently; do the right thing in the correct fashion as an automatic, ingrained matter of course. It was just too big, too widespread and hectic for any other approach to work. Warriors had to create a real Band of Brothers: A group of actors and special ability extras who could operate effectively and independently on camera just as the men they were portraying did in combat.

In consultation with XO 1st Lt. Mike Stokey, I pulled together the largest group of Cadre NCOs we had ever fielded. Two Warriors Inc. officers and five NCOs worked in training the units involved and in helping to stage the action for the entire eight months we worked on Band of Brothers. As usual by this time, most of the guys wound up playing roles in the film.

We obtained permission from the British Ministry of Defense to set up a base of operations for training at Longmoor Camp near Aldershot, the home of the British Army. We ran three barracks buildings for garrison operations and our own mess hall. Before Easy Company arrived for training, we raised and trained a platoon of extras who were to portray the primary Wehrmacht or Waffen SS enemies in the project. Longmoor has excellent rugged back-country and firing ranges we used to get this important German unit up to speed on Wehrmacht weapons and tactics. In our view, the German portrayals were as important as the American effort since we did not want Easy Company to appear to be facing and fighting a bunch of untrained clowns. The German soldier of WW II was a tough and capable opponent and we wanted to insure that came through in every episode.

When Easy Company arrived at Longmoor for training, we shifted gears to focus on Army Airborne and built a unit consisting of two rifle platoons and a weapons platoon. The weapons guys focused on light machineguns and 60mm mortars while the riflemen learned the M-1, BAR, carbine and Thompson SMG. Training was heavy on physical stuff (long morning runs and trips over the obstacle course) as well as field tactics both day and night leading up to a week of pre-jump and jump training conducted at the No. 1 Parachute School at RAF Bryze-Norton. All 60 of our men got through jump training culminating in a wire descent from a 60-foot jump tower. They were then presented their jump wings in a special ceremony.

It all came together back at Longmoor during a Final Field Exercise that required the unit under its own leaders to conduct reconnaissance, plan, navigate to and execute a night attack on a heavily fortified enemy position. They pulled it off in true airborne style and continued to perform in an outstanding manner as a unit during the long period of getting the story on film. What made me proudest in this effort was watching the long-term impact the training had on our unit. They never lost it; never became just another gaggle of actors. They were Easy Company paratroopers all the time; on or off camera.