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Even a taste of soldiering is sobering

My week at NTC: Day 4

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POSTED: October 16, 2009 9:13 a.m.
I want to thank my hosts, the 1st Brigade, for inviting me to experience the National Training Center for three full and busy days last week. I learned much from the experience and hopefully I will be more “in tune” when I cover the military beat because of that brief experience in the Mojave Desert.
My NTC interlude with the 1st Brigade gave me a peek into a soldier’s daily life. I realize now how many of us take a lot of little things for granted. I can understand why my husband Frank was so appreciative to just be home when he’d return from a deployment, especially one with hazardous duty. (He was active duty Air Force years ago and served in the first Gulf War.)
Although I hate to admit it, I was challenged to physically keep up with people 10 to 20 (or more) years my junior at NTC. Still, I managed and I was determined to take it all in stride without complaint. I don’t think the 1st Brigade would have appreciated hosting a whiney reporter. And, I’m glad I shared a tent with female soldiers rather than stay in the post hotel.
My last night there I did get a treat. The brigade loaned me Command Sgt. Maj. Edd Watson’s office in the Emergency Operations Center to stay for the night, so I could easily catch a ride to the airport. Watson, affectionately known as Raider 7, had a cot in the office for catnaps. However, I don’t think he useS it much. He told me, “Sleep is overrated.”
Most soldiers at NTC get little sleep. Activity there is 24/7. The EOC also had a private bathroom with a shower. Soldiers make do with open bay showers. So, compared to the overflow tent, the EOC was a four-star hotel.
It felt great to have a private shower at last. But, the first shower I took at home late Saturday night was even better. Like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz would say, “There’s no place like home.” My first home-cooked meal was the best chicken soup I’ve ever eaten, even if it was just a doctored-up version of Ramen noodles. (Thank you, dear.) Not that Army chow is bad, home-cooked food is just better. And sleeping in my own bed between fresh, crisp sheets — well, it was heaven. If I felt like this after just three days, I wonder how much more relieved our soldiers will feel when they return home from a 12-month deployment.
My last day at NTC flew by. The afternoon alone was most entertaining.
First, I met Col. Roger Cloutier, brigade commander for the 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, that morning. He is affectionately known as Raider 6. I was told both he and CSM Watson are highly regarded by their troops.
Etric Smith, from Fort Irwin’s Public Affairs Office, drove me to Medina Wasl for the afternoon’s scheduled exercise, a run-through of a worst case scenario before the troops actually arrived “in the box.” Smith was attentive, and gave me a complete tour of the mock Iraqi village and introduced me to many of the role players.
The costumed actors, some of whom are Iraqi-Americans or amputees portraying wounded soldiers, are committed to making their performances as authentic as possible. The Hollywood-like production with amazing pyrotechnics serves a serious purpose — preparing soldiers for real world situations. These scenarios, though they seem like video games or action movies, are rehearsals for a potential reality.
Sgt. Maj. Watson told me soldiers are “somebody’s father, mother, brother, sister, wife, husband, son or daughter” and stressed they stand guard in lonely, dangerous places so people back home can sleep in safety. Point made.
We’ll see you soon, 1st Brigade.

 

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