Soldiers Train for War: An Exclusive Look Inside the Army's National Training Center
POSTED: Friday, July 1, 2011 - 7:45am
UPDATED: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 - 6:26pm
FORT IRWIN, CA- President Obama’s plan to bring some troops home from Afghanistan does not mean that local soldiers aren’t still gearing up for war. At the National Training Center in California, a group of soldiers from Fort Bliss are training hard for a deployment just a few months away.
108 degrees makes soldiers want some water. After a cool drink, some grab some sleep, play cards, or even a video game.
But before any of that, this group of military police went into an Afghan village, on patrol.
The village isn’t real, but sure looks like it. Clever construction and actors playing villagers sell the scene, complete with women in burqas and men selling fruit, speaking Pashto, a common Afghan language.
The Middle Eastern setting is by design. The Army wants to prepare its troops by throwing them into realistic settings, and testing their limits.
“Here in NTC, it’s been very difficult, very hard situations day-after-day-after-day," said Lt. Stephen Donaldson.
He's been out here almost a month now. He’s convinced that the realistic training will save lives when his platoon heads overseas.
“We’ve definitely been able to look back and see where the gaps are and see how we can fill those gaps," he says.
Back in the village, US troops meet with the Afghan governor in charge. Several businesses in town were damaged by recent fighting, and this scenario calls for US cash to help rebuild them.
“We’re going to go to the villagers, the mayor here is going to lead us, to the shopkeepers who are going to receive the cash," said Captain Harmon, the commanding officer of this mission.
Although the scenario is controlled, soldiers don’t know what’s planned. A routine mission of goodwill can quickly turn hostile, if supervisors decide insurgents should attack the group.
Commanders tell us soldiers who learn to expect the unexpected, are the ones who have a better chance of coming home unhurt.
No enemies in sight today though. A large group convenes around some very happy shop owners, getting cash.
Army policy makes community relations a top priority, getting Afghans to trust US troops.
Count these shop owners among the Pro-American. The owner of this bag store took US money too, but seconds later, soldiers found a propaganda flyer put up by insurgents inside. It’s a sobering reminder of what these soldiers will encounter overseas.
“I’m anxious because I know there’s a lot of soldiers out there that need us to go relieve them so they can come back home," said Specialist Joanne Vazquez.
Specialist Vazquez will deploy with the rest of her unit later this year. The commanders here at the National Training Center want to make sure they’re fully trained and ready to fight.