We woke up at 5:00 a.m. today, packed up all of our gear, and headed over to the "Chow Hall" for breakfast. Eggs, biscuits and gravy, sausage and cereal were on the menu. Then, we were ready to travel to FOB Seattle.
We rode along with a convoy delivering supplies to FOB Seattle. It took several hours to get everyone involved in the convoy to start moving. Everything must be checked and rechecked, leadership reviews military and safety procedures with soldiers and all of that takes time. No one wants to rush through anything. There are clear guidelines and responsibilities for everyone involved. By sticking to all of those rules and regulations, the military aims to make everything the soldiers do safer. Vehicles in these convoys rarely travel above 20 mph, so it takes a long time to get from place to place.
FOB Seattle is smaller than FOB Denver, but looks very similar. All of the living quarters are large tents covered in a hardened foam substance. The foam insulates the living quarters. According to soldiers who have been to the National Training Center before, this foam is something rather new. An air-conditioning system keeps the inside of the tents cool. Indoor-outdoor carpeting covers the floors. It looks and feels a lot like Astroturf. Some soldiers are not allowed to have food inside the tents because desert animals can get attracted to the scent of the food.
There are a lot of different animals and wildlife here at Fort Irwin, but you wouldn't know that if you didn't look closely. Coyotes and lizards are running around, snakes are slithering and ants are crawling throughout the military base. Soldiers have also told us there is a large, endangered species of turtle that lives here. If this rare turtle gets scared, it will urinate. Water is tough to find in a desert. Apparently, if this turtle urinates because of fear, it will die of dehydration. So, if soldiers encounter one of these animals, it becomes a big ordeal and they have to be careful to avoid it. So far, no one we've met has seen of these turtles.
Many troops we spoke today were exhausted. The training schedule here is intense at times, but also attempts to allow some rest to make sure everyone stays healthy. We spent some time talking to soldiers who were playing a game of cards to pass the time. While they're out here at the National Training Center, soldiers are not allowed to use computers or cell phones. The military wants everyone to focus on the mission and on getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan. It's been rough on the men and women to lose all contact with their loved ones. Many have told us they can't wait to pick up the phone again.
We spent a large part of our day trying to coordinate with the Iowa National Guard. We are here covering their mission. Part of the military's mission includes working with the media. Soldiers are learning how to work with us, and we're learning how to work with them. Since we've already followed the soldiers at Camp Ripley, MN and Camp Shelby, MS, we have a good idea about how the military system works. However, here at the National Training Center, the process is more challenging to navigate. It's been a learning experience.
Plans and missions change frequently. We're doing our best to keep track and follow along. Everyone has been incredibly friendly and nice to us. Some soldiers say they're getting a bit nervous about going to Afghanistan, but others just want to get out of the NTC and fly over to the Middle East.