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Mark Geary's Reporter Notebook: Camp Shelby Tuesday, August 24

Last night, we all actually slept for about five hours or so. After a few days here with the Iowa National Guard, we're finally getting used to the schedule. By 6:45 a.m., we were all having "chow." No one says "breakfast," "lunch" or "dinner" here. Instead, soldiers refer to all food as "chow." Waffles, eggs, bacon and hash browns were on the menu. Everything tasted great.

Major Mike Wunn has been working with us throughout our time at Camp Shelby. Today, we kept him busy and he helped us find some awesome stories. We started out by visiting with some mechanics who were learning how to work with the military's new MRAP vehicles. MRAP is an acronym that stands for Mine Resistant Armor Protected Vehicle. Soldiers will use these devices whenever they are off the base in Afghanistan. MRAPs are a lot stronger than Humvees and can withstand IED attacks (Improvised Explosive Device) and roadside bombs. The mechanics were taking apart an axle from an MRAP. When the Iowa National Guard reaches Afghanistan, these mechanics will be responsible for keeping vehicles safe. They never rebuild anything that breaks. Instead, they replace the part that broke. It's just too risky to do anything else.

Then, we had a little emergency. The videotape photographer Dane Firkus was using broke. Somehow the camera snapped the tape. We thought we had lost all of the material on that tape. It included about a half dozen interviews with soldiers. Luckily, Dane knew how to splice the tape back together with a knife and some tape. We only lost a few seconds of video instead of an hour! We were so relieved.

Next, we drove over to a simulator area where soldiers were learning how to drive an MRAP. If you've ever been to an arcade and seen one of those flight or driving simulator games that rock back and forth, you should be able to get a good idea what the simulator looked like. Of course, you can also take a look at Jim Slosiarek's photos, too! Soldiers told me they had a lot of fun using the simulator and even felt like they were playing a videogame. However, they also knew this was not a game.

This exercise was teaching them how to react when a tire blows, a bomb explodes or the road gets slick. These lessons could save their lives. At another area of Camp Shelby, soldiers participated in a different MRAP simulator. This one included an actual "cab" portion of an MRAP and spun around 360 degrees with soldiers inside. MRAPS can tip over, so this training allowed troops to understand what a roll-over feels like and get a better idea of how to react. During the final stage of training, soldiers drove the MRAPS around Camp Shelby. When you see these vehicles, they really are intimidating. Each one can cost as much as one-million dollars. It's a hefty price-tag, but the military says they are virtually indestructible and have prevented countless soldiers from getting killed.

We spent the next part of the day visiting a live-fire shoot house. During this training exercise, soldiers learn how to enter a building or house, secure it and kill any enemies that get in their way. While we were there, troops fired blanks. Tomorrow, that particular group of soldiers will use live rounds. It was intense. I can't imagine what it must feel like to be in a real-life situation like this.

We ended our day by moving out to another section of Camp Shelby. It's basically an area for soldiers who are participating in certain types of training. There are a lot of soldiers from the Iowa City area here. I'll tell you more about the place tomorrow. So far, this has been a great experience. We've gotten the chance to speak with some incredible people and have even run into a lot of soldiers we spoke with at Camp Ripley, Minnesota. It's been fun to catch-up with them here in Mississippi.

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