We were up and ready to go this morning before the sun rose again. This is the half-way point of our time at The National Training Center. Nearly everyone we have spoken to this week is surviving on little or no sleep. There's a lot of energy here and a real commitment to learning as much as possible from this extensive training experience.
We headed out on a convoy this morning with soldiers from the 1-133 Bravo Company. We're sleeping in the same tent as these guys and we've gotten to know them all pretty well over the course of our time at Fort Irwin, Camp Ripley and Camp Shelby. The convoy mission got delayed for more than an hour because a CT or Combat Trainer was not available. Soldiers have told me that every mission they embark on requires them to have a CT. CTs are typically active duty members of the military who work at Fort Irwin. Their job is to watch soldiers throughout the training and provide immediate feedback. You can easily spot a CT because they have an earpiece. Anyways, when a CT did become available, we traveled to a nearby training city not too far away from Forward Operating Base (FOB) Seattle. The training city didn't have much activity. We spent a little time there and then got back into the Humvees.
Later in the day, we went on a mission with the same company. As we ventured down a dusty gravel road in the Mojave Desert our convoy got attacked by insurgents. The enemy started firing at our trucks and it felt very realistic. At one point, an Improvised Explosive Device (or IED) exploded. IEDs are also often called "roadside bombs." Dane, Jim and I all rode in Humvees along with a group of soldiers. Every soldier took this exercise seriously. They shouted into their radios any time they noticed suspicious activity and worked together incredibly well. It was obvious that these troops have spent a lot of time together and know how to communicate.
Not too far away from that IED, bullets started flying from the mountains surrounding the dirt road. Once again, the soldiers did not hesitate to react and respond to the situation. At first, they struggled to find the shooter. The mountains and landscape here provide a lot of hiding places. But, once soldiers found the target, they killed the insurgent. Of course, all of this is a role-playing situation. But, if you were to simply drive by and watch, you'd swear it was real.
Back at FOB Seattle, we spent a good amount of time wandering around talking to soldiers. We had a lot of great conversations that did not involve a video camera or a reporter's notebook. Many of the men and women we encountered wanted to know what was going on in Cedar Rapids. They also wanted to know sports scores and chat about the Hawkeyes. It was a lot of fun just getting to know people a little bit better. Because this is the third time we have embedded with the Iowa National Guard, we know a lot of the troops. We can't walk anywhere on the FOB without running into someone we know.
We asked a lot of people if they are worried about going overseas to Afghanistan. I can't tell you how many said they felt confident because of the top-notch training they've received and the trust they have in their battle buddies. Of course, everyone is nervous to some extent. They're heading to a foreign country far away from their family and friends. Some parts of Afghanistan are more dangerous than others. But, just about everyone tells us they're ready for the challenge.