We stayed up until 1:00 a.m. last night writing and editing the stories we gathered throughout the day. None of us got much sleep. We had to wake up at 5:30 a.m. so we could have enough time to get ready to meet Major Mike Wunn from the Iowa National Guard for breakfast around 6:15 a.m. this morning.
The guard served up omelets, French toast, bacon, hash browns and plenty of fresh fruit. It was a little tough to eat anything that early in the morning, but the food tasted great. The National Guard serves up omelets three times a week and people always line up for them.
Next, we traveled along with a group of Iowa National Guard soldiers who were performing a training exercise designed to help troops understand the Afghan culture. One of the military's main goals is to eventually be able to withdraw troops from the country and allow the people there to live, work, think and act independently.
During the training exercise, soldiers learned about customs and faux pas. For example, people in Afghanistan consider it rude to shake hands with your left hand because they typically use that hand to wipe themselves after going to the bathroom. A few Afghan natives actually participated in the training exercise, but most of the other people involved with the scenarios were actors. The military wants Iowa National Guard soldiers to feel comfortable speaking with people and to avoid offending Afghan natives. Typically, when a soldier enters a home, it's customary to share a cup of tea. However, right now, it is Ramadan. As a result, no one drank tea. This is yet another example of the military is trying to make the training as authentic and realistic as possible.
Later, we traveled out to a firing range and watched soldiers fire their weapons. Everyone had to wear ear plugs because the bang/pop of the rifles was so loud. It was interesting to watch all of the safety procedures everyone has to follow when they're out on the range. There's a lot of checking, double-checking and triple-checking just to make sure no one gets hurt or accidentally pulls the trigger.
The heat is intense here at Camp Shelby. Every soldier has a backpack full of water at all times. They often call it a "camel back." The device has a tube connected to it that hangs down in front of soldiers' uniforms. Then, they can easily take a drink and stay hydrated all day long. Throughout the camp, there are large, black water tanks. Soldiers can fill-up their water supply at any time. Often times, during training exercises, the instructor will tell the troops they need to stop and take a water break. Today, it was once again in the mid 90s. When you add in all the humidity, it makes for a miserable situation that can become dangerous if you don't keep drinking water.
Later in the evening, we ate dinner. It was barbeque chicken, mashed potatoes, rice, beans and even some cake. So far, we've all been really impressed with the food out here.
As I mentioned earlier, the heat can be unbearable during the morning and afternoon. That's why plenty of troops do their "P.T" (physical training) at night. This evening, we tagged along with a group of soldiers who told me they love to run and do their exercises under moonlight, not sunlight! It's easy to understand why. Photographer Jim Slosiarek was able to capture some impressive pictures using the light of the moon.
For the rest of the evening, we'll stay up putting together all of the stories we've collected and gathered throughout the day. Then, we'll be up early again tomorrow to do it all over again.
We've all noticed today that the men and women here have strong ties with each other. There's a lot of camaraderie. You get the feeling that everyone here would do anything to help their fellow soldier. I think that's pretty impressive.