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1st Brigade readies for worse-case scenarios
Unit training at NTC in California
NTC village sniper
A “sniper” shoots blank rounds from a café window at soldiers in the street during a violent scenario at Medina Wasl, one of NTC’s mock Iraqi villages in California’s Mojave Desert. - photo by Photo by Denise Etheridge
Fort Stewart’s 1st Brigade is preparing for the worst case scenarios Iraq’s insurgency could dish out. The brigade is training at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., this month.
Troops will deploy to Iraq in mid-December.
Soldiers from the 1st Brigade will experience real-world violence when they roll into any of the 13 mock Iraqi villages at NTC. The villages are replicas of Iraqi towns, complete with mosques, markets and Arabic-speaking villagers. Medina Wasl even has a functioning hotel, The Lyndon Marcus International Hotel, named for Spc. Lyndon A. Marcus who was killed in Iraq in May 2004.
The training center is also preparing an area on the side of Tiefort Mountain to stage Afghanistan scenarios.
“The training area is 1,200-square miles,” said Etric Smith, Fort Irwin and NTC media relations officer. “It’s the size of the state of Rhode Island.”
Smith said the villages are vibrant, detailed locations complete with Hollywood-style sets, amazing pyrotechnics and graphic special effects. Sound is also used to authenticate the experience. Muslims are “called” to worship several times a day and Arabic-style radio music is broadcast in the streets.
“When soldiers come through here we want their senses to be bombarded with the look, the smell, the noise of Iraq,” Smith said.
He added NTC has more than 3,000 sounds that can be broadcast throughout the mock villages during training.
Smith said the mock villages were upgraded from standard exercise locations to actual replicas of Iraqi towns at the direction of former Fort Irwin and NTC commander Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard.
“This was his vision,” Smith said.
Role players include soldiers stationed at Fort Irwin, who play “good guys and bad guys,” according to Smith, observer-controllers who observe the training, amputees to play wounded soldiers and civilians hired by various NTC contractors.
Edward Jackson, an Army veteran, portrays “Kamal Rasheed” at NTC.
“This happens to be my way of giving back to the military,” Jackson said. “I usually play a salesperson or street leader. If I really want to wreak havoc I tell people I’m selling hashish.”
Nadra Jajou, an Iraqi American who is originally from Mosul, Iraq, said she tries to teach the Iraqi culture to soldiers who train at the NTC mock villages. Jajou and her husband, Ramzi Toma, have six children and several grandchildren. All are “proud Americans” Toma says. Toma, a retired elementary school teacher, had lived in Bagdad.
Role player Eileen Malakha, who often works alongside Jajou, is also a naturalized American citizen who emigrated to the U.S. from Iraq.
“At least if you have a little experience that will keep you (soldiers) safe,” Malakha said. She added that the NTC training also helps to impart respect for Iraqi culture.
Malakha and Jajou said they pray for the troops to return home safe to their families.
Capt. David Fittro with the 11th Armored Calvary Regiment at Fort Irwin is in charge of village scenarios.
“This is my baby, here,” Fittro said.
He has had two tours in Iraq, and so knows what soldiers can expect.
“After seeing the investment the Army has put into the training, I’m shocked and happy,” he said. “The replications are so realistic. You’re allowing the soldier to make mistakes here instead of in Iraq. These lessons are indispensable.”

Staff writer Etheridge was embedded with the 1st Brigade at NTC last week.
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