Afghanistan Simulation Prepares Iowa National Guard Soldiers For War

By Mark Geary, Reporter

Iowa Army National Guard Sgt. Devin Burgett of Iowa City looks for enemy concealed in a hillside during a mounted patrol training exercise at the fictional Afghan village of Jahel dar Lab-e at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin on Wednesday, Sept. 29, near Barstow, Calif. (Jim Slosiarek/SourceMedia Group News)

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By Kelli Sutterman

FORT IRWIN, CALIFORNIA – Iowa National Guard soldiers will face danger just about everywhere they go in Afghanistan.

Insurgents could shoot at them, throw grenades and even use bombs.

Before they face that kind of real danger, troops visited a simulated Afghan village at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California.

Smoke billowing into the air signals danger to nearby troops. Wounded U.S. soldiers cry out in agony.

"It's really intense," Staff Sergeant Chad Johnson, 28, of Shellrock said.

Afghans swarm the street as soldiers peer over rooftops. Enemies camouflage themselves as civilians. The smell of gunpowder and the sound of screaming villagers intensifies.

"Things can happen anywhere, anytime," Staff Sgt. Curtis Wee, 26, of Iowa City said.

Then, another explosion hits the town. An ambulance roars into town to carry away casualties. Paramedics cannot treat the terror, fear and tension that has filled this community.

"People were dropping right and left,” Wee said.

Taliban members beat an injured U.S. soldier, toss him into a pick-up truck and drive off before anyone can come to the rescue. Moments later, a suicide bomber kills himself and everyone else in a café.

"There was a lot of commotion going on everywhere,” Pvt. Tanner Williams, 19, of Tama, with C Company of the 1-133rd said.

Even though the bullets are blanks, the emotions soldiers feel when they get shot are real.

"I'm thinking in my mind, had this been real, there would be uniformed officers at my mother's house. Who wants to write that letter? So, it really brings it home,” Wee said.

Every soldier's uniform has sensors on it. When enemy fire hits them, it makes a beep. It's like a high-tech game of laser tag.

Ertebat Shar is a simulated Afghan Village at the National Training Center designed to prepare troops for the worst day in Afghanistan.

"We try to give them a three-dimensional fight...from above and at the ground level," Sgt. 1st Class Sal Digaetano said.

Hollywood make-up artists make real amputees look like they just lost their legs. Special effects experts bring blasts to life. Actual Afghan people shout at soldiers using their native language of Pashtun.

"I think every soldier should go through this situation," Sgt. Anthony Martin, 28, said.

When the troops evacuate all the injured soldiers, the exercise ends, but memories of what happened there will remain with soldiers throughout their deployment and resurface anytime they enter a village in Afghanistan.

The military also hires a news crew to videotape the entire exercise. Later, soldiers watch that report and learn how mistakes they made could show up in the media.
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