CAMP RIPLEY, MN – Some of the Iowa National Guard's most memorable moments at Camp Ripley happen in the confines of small rooms and large tents they call home. After a day of exhausting and intense training, soldiers often sacrifice some of their slumber for a chance to get to know their comrades a little better.
Many use their free time to clean their weapons, grab a snack or even toss a few jabs at their battlefield brothers.
HHC 2/34th BSTB Specialist Eli Shultz of Cedar Rapids tries to ease some of the training simulation tension by assigning nicknames. "You have to have something to joke about to break it up," Shultz said, "Once you've been around awhile, one day, it clicks. Everyone gets a nickname."
Shultz's buddy HHC 2/34th BSTB Specialist Kyle Graber of Kalona loves to workout in his downtime. Graber earned the nickname, "Protein," because he's always munching on a protein bar or guzzling a protein shake to stay in shape. "I'm at the gym every day. That's pretty much my stress reliever," Graber said.
Although the teasing about his workout routine can get annoying at times, Graber knows his fellow soldiers would risk their lives to save him if he were in danger. "It's probably the most important bond we have. You're going to be in combat. You have to know how everybody acts and moves so you don't get killed," he said.
When they're not busy cracking jokes or playing sports, troops often have a cell phone pressed against their ear. HHC 2/34th BSTB Private Jakub Schmitz of Cedar Rapids talks to his wife whenever he has a free moment. Schmitz got married in May and will become a father later this year when his wife gives birth to their first child.
"I don't think I could get through it without her," Schmitz said, "I don't want to leave my wife. I won't be able to be there for the birth of my kid. That's something that's hard to swallow... I don't know how they're going to be back here without me."
Although he will likely miss the baby's birth, the time he spends serving the United States of America will allow his child to grow up in a free country. While he does not have the freedom to decide when he will deploy to the Afghanistan or even what he'll eat for dinner during training at Camp Ripley, Schmitz believes his sacrifices will safeguard the liberties so many have fought to protect.
Just about every soldier faces some kind of stressful or emotional situation back at home. The battlefield allows them to block out everything else and focus on their mission, but their friends in the barracks provide them with much needed support, and of course, a little humor.