Reporter’s Notebook: Camp Ripley – Tuesday, June 22

By Mark Geary, Reporter

Lt. William Hayes of Moline, Ill., (left) with Delta Company, 1-133rd Infantry signals a soldier to get on the radio as he and Pfc. Grant Smith of Beaman, Iowa, take up a position after a report of possible enemy contact at the IED 2 lane during annual training for the Iowa National Guard at Camp Ripley on Tuesday, June 22, 2010, in Minnesota. Soldiers on the exercise encountered command wire IED's, a hoax IED, as well as a vehicle-borne IED or VBED. (Jim Slosiarek)

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By Becky Ogann

CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - The sound of soldiers getting ready for the day woke us up this morning around 6:00 a.m. It’s kind of odd to be writing this, but I feel like I’m actually getting used to being awake that early. We shuffled over to the dining area (referred to as the “chow hall” by the soldiers). Breakfast included some eggs, a hash brown and a slice of french toast.

After we got cleaned up and ready for the day, we went out with a group of soldiers who traveled through what essentially amounted to a deadly obstacle course. As they traveled down various paths through the woods, the guys got bombarded or attacked by enemies. The actors involved in these scenarios take their jobs seriously. Many of them are from Afghanistan. Their job is to give soldiers the most authentic idea of what life in their country is like. This component makes the exercises seem more realistic.

Members of the National Guard told us the course should take about a half hour to complete. But, during our time here, we’ve learned that time estimates are usually wrong. Because this training is so critical, the guard takes time to make sure every soldier who leaves Camp Ripley will be ready for the next stage of the deployment process. As a result, the exercise that was supposed to take about a half hour actually lasted a little over two hours.

Everyone got hungry after all that hard work. So, the troops dug into their MREs. MRE stands for Meal Ready to Eat. It’s essentially a packet that contains a bunch of different items packed with preservatives. The MREs include everything ranging from cappuccino to chicken and dumplings. Each one features a main course.

Every soldier we spoke to had a different favorite. But, they all agreed that the “Veggie Omelet” was by far the worst. Private First Class Chris Mollicone from Clive and of the 133rd HHC told me he hates the Veggie Omelet because of “The texture. The smell. The flavor. It’s just all around terrible.”

We got our hands on one of these “Veggie Omelets.” Trust me. Those soldiers weren’t kidding. The stench that seeped out of bag was enough to make you vomit. The taste…well, let’s just say it tasted like it smelled. Photographer Dane Firkus says he’ll eat anything, but even he wasn’t willing to accept my challenge of eating the entire Veggie Omelet. However, photographer Jim Slosiarek actually enjoyed it. He said it wasn’t that bad. I think he must be delirious and a little overtired from working sun-up to sun down all this week.

Everyone had a lot of work to do, so we headed back to the FOB (Forward Operating Base) to send text, video and pictures back to KCRG-TV9 and the Gazette. A few hours later, it was time for dinner. Tonight, the National Guard served up some sirloin steak, potatoes and veggies. Plenty of soldiers slathered their steak with A1 Sauce. But, everyone seemed to enjoy the meal.

After dinner, we visited a firing range filled with Howitzers. They’re essentially very large guns that can do quite a bit of damage. Soldiers who use the guns don’t decide when or where to fire. Instead, a group of troops in another area use mathematical calculations to make sure the enemy ends up in the crosshairs. Before anyone pulls the launch lever, a team makes sure all safety procedures get followed. Any mistake could cost lives. When the gun goes off the smell of gunpowder fills the tent. The blast is powerful enough to make anyone literally shake in their boots. Soldiers told me that they always say, “It’s going to be a bad day for the enemies on the other end of the barrel.”

We ended out the day by watching an “illumination round” light up the night sky. The military launches the device into darkness and it slowly drifts down to the ground. It essentially acts like a giant lantern. Troops use the light to locate enemies who might try to hide in the evening hours. It was fascinating to watch.

Back at the FOB, we stayed up until about 1:30 a.m. putting together our stories about the day. Tomorrow, we’ll be ready to go again around 6:00 a.m.
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