CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. -- Nearly 3,000 Iowa National Guard soldiers are training this month in Minnesota. It's part of their preparation for the Iowa Guard's largest deployment since World War II -- one that will send those soldiers to Afghanistan.
For most of them this will be their first deployment, so they're working hard. Their early training at Camp Ripley, Minnesota, is already giving them a real sense of what they could face in Afghanistan.
"Everything we do is geared toward what we potentially plan on seeing over there," said Capt. Garrett Gingrich of Waterloo.
Over there, of course, is Afghanistan. And a good share of what they might see in that country involves the Afghan people themselves.
That's why part of this training involves realistic drills that go far beyond the rifle range.
As the soldiers go through the drill of trying to find an insurgent bomb-maker, they deal with actual Afghan nationals.
"By bringing these role players here, this has allowed them to really see the realism, and, more important, understand the culture," said BG Tim Orr of the Iowa National Guard.
Once the drill is over, an officer reviews the scenario with his soldiers. They go over what went right and what went wrong before they run the drill again. Even this review involves an Afghan.
"Most cases they will actually bring in to explain to us or try to really help us set up our training so it looks real," said CSM John Breitsprecker of the Iowa National Guard. "It looks like what's gonna happen in small villages when we get overseas.">
Some of these Iowa soldiers have served overseas in past deployments -- Egypt, Iraq, and even Afghanistan. But they've never experienced training like this in the past.
The preparation at Camp Ripley is actually the Iowa Guard members' annual training. They'll go on active duty in late July and early August. That's when they'll receive more extensive training, first at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and then at Fort Erwin, California.
The Iowa soldiers should all be in Afghanistan by Thanksgiving.