Mark Geary’s Reporter Notebook: Fort Irwin – Friday, October 1

By Mark Geary, Reporter

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By Mark Geary

Fort Irwin, California is in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Officials here told us it only rains for a total of about two weeks a year. Last night, around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., it started pouring. Then, this morning, it rained again for about twenty minutes. It’s not muddy outside, but the moisture has helped with the dust situation here. Obviously, we’re in the middle of the desert, so it’s quite hot here and very dry. When you walk from place to place, dust kicks up under your feet. Any vehicle that drives by has a big cloud of dust right behind it. They’ve even got a nickname for it here: moon dust.

The military is worried about all this dust and requires soldiers to wear eye protection like sunglasses or clear goggles whenever they set foot outside. Soldiers also are not allowed to wear contacts because the military worries all that dust could create problems and cause eye infections. We’ve found plenty of people have gotten Lasik surgery to avoid having to wear glasses. Over in Afghanistan, soldiers tell us the dust is even finer than here in California. So, dealing with the dust here has certainly been a good training opportunity.

We spent some time this morning talking to a few soldiers who have been deployed before. They shared some fascinating stories about their travels. Many of the men and women with deployment experience are mentoring younger soldiers who’ve never been abroad before. It’s interesting to watch some of those conversations unfold. The military has provided quite a bit of training, but there’s nothing like hearing about Afghanistan from a soldier who’s already been there.

We were around soldiers 24/7 during our time at Fort Irwin. We slept in cots right beside them, ate MREs, shared bathrooms and went on missions right beside the soldiers. Since this is the third time we’ve embedded with the Iowa National Guard, we’ve gotten the chance to watch the troops refine their skills quite a bit. It’s been interesting to watch the training grow more and more intense at each stop. We rarely, if ever, saw any one complaining. Everyone has always seemed focused and ready for any challenge or obstacle that might get in their way.

It’s hard to believe that the training has come to an end. In just a few weeks, Iowa National Guard soldiers will start arriving in Afghanistan. By Thanksgiving, all 3,000 men and women will be there. It’s been fascinating to follow their journey. Videographer Dane Firkus, Photographer Jim Slosiarek and I will all be thinking about the soldiers and their families back in Iowa throughout the deployment. We hope you’ve enjoyed our reports.
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