CAMP RIPLEY, Minn Nearly 3,000 Iowa National Guard soldiers are training this month in Minnesota. It's part of their preparation for the Iowa Guard's largest deployment since World War II, one that will send those soldiers to Afghanistan. For many this will be their first deployment, so they're training hard. And early training at Camp Ripley, Minnesota is already giving them a real sense of what they could face in Afghanistan.
As Iowa National Guard vehicles move along a country road, suddenly the unexpected. A blast shoots across from an improvised explosive device, or I-E-D. Soldiers react, spreading along the road looking for the enemy, whoever it was who set off the bomb. It's a simulated attack, even with a simulated casualty, but the response is as real as these soldiers can make it.
This drill is one of many Iowa National Guard soldiers experience as they train at Camp Ripley. And there's a definite purpose. "Everything we do is geared toward what we potentially plan on seeing over there," says Capt. Garrett Gingrich of Waterloo. Over there, of course, is Afghanistan. And a good share of what they might see in that country involves the Afghan people themselves. That's why part of this training involves realistic drills, drills that go far beyond the rifle range.
The scenario gives the soldiers an impression of what they might encounter in a small Afghan village. In training they can make mistakes, mistakes they can't make in combat. As the soldiers go through the drill of trying to find an insurgent bomb-maker, they deal with actual Afghan nationals.
"By bringing these role players here this has allowed them to really see the realism, and, more important, understand the culture," says Brigadier General Tim Orr with the Iowa National Guard.
Once the drill is over, an officer reviews the scenario with his soldiers. They go over what went right and what went wrong before they run the drill again.
Some of these Iowa soldiers have served overseas in past deployments; Egypt, Iraq and even Afghanistan. But they've never experienced training like this in the past.
The preparation at Camp Ripley is actually the Iowa Guard members' annual training. They'll go on active duty in late July and early August. That's when they'll receive more extensive training first at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and then at Fort Erwin, California.
The Iowa soldiers should all be in Afghanistan by Thanksgiving.