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Mark Geary's Reporter Notebook: Camp Shelby

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As I'm writing this, we're in the car driving from Memphis back to Cedar Rapids. The past week has been an unforgettable experience for all of us. When you're a journalist and you get the chance to visit a place like Camp Shelby, it can be overwhelming. We met hundreds of soldiers and every single one of them had an interesting story to tell. We did our best to interview as many troops as possible, but wish we could have talked to even more.

During my final Reporter Notebook entry from Camp Ripley, Minnesota, I mentioned some of the lingo the military uses. For example, instead of saying, "Yes," they say, "Roger" or "check." This time around, we noticed everyone kept saying the word "tracking." Instead of saying, "I understand" or "I see what you're saying," soldiers say, "I'm tracking." It was a little strange to hear at first, but now we're used to it.

Camp Shelby looks like a giant forest preserve. In fact, the Desoto National Forest is actually part of the facility. Ever since World War I, soldiers have come to Camp Shelby to train. The military told me Camp Shelby is about twice the size of Camp Ripley. While we were covering stories, sometimes we had to spend as much as 45 minutes to get from one place to another. The place was huge.
On this trip, we noticed soldiers seemed more confident than when we last saw them at Camp Ripley. By the time they finish the final few phases of their training, we know they will be even more prepared for Afghanistan.

Experienced soldiers who have been deployed before often mentor younger men and women who recently enlisted. We watched the older soldiers mentor the younger ones many times during the trip. Many troops who have been deployed before said they learned a lot from their previous time oversees. For example, one soldier told us he brought dozens of DVDs with him a few years ago. This time around, he downloaded all of those DVDs to an external hard drive which takes up a lot less space than all of those DVDs.

We're all going to miss the Iowa National Guard soldiers. It's been fun following them through this on-going process. During this trip, we ran into countless soldiers we had met at Camp Ripley. Unlike most stories we typically cover, we have had the chance to really get to know these men and women. I think our relationship with the soldiers allowed us to tell better stories and helped viewers and readers understand the deployment process a little better.

This won't be last time Iowa National Guard soldiers see Camp Shelby. Some will come back for a few weeks after they finish training in California at Fort Irwin. Then, they'll board a plane for Afghanistan from Mississippi. When the mission ends next year, all of the soldiers will cycle back through Camp Shelby before they head back home to Iowa.

I hope you've enjoyed our coverage of Camp Shelby. Thanks for reading.

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