Preparing for Battle

May 6, 2009 1:48:41 AM PDT
More than 140- thousand U.S. troops are currently serving in Iraq. Before many of these soldiers go there they enter a realistic world of the Middle East, just hours from the Central Valley.It's a world of roadside bombs and wounded soldiers ... Insurgents and Iraqi Police. I was able to gain exclusive access to the military's national training ground. A place where soldiers learn firsthand the realities of war.

These soldiers have traveled hundreds of miles from their base in Fort Lewis Washington to the expanse of the Mojave Desert. They've brought their tents and trucks and tanks to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin California ... About 35 miles northeast of Barstow. For those who have never been here.... It will be an experience they will not soon forget.

The bomb blasts are simulated. The bullets are blanks. The blood is provided by a professional makeup artist. But the scenario is real.

Command Sgt. Maj. Bobby Moore said, "This was the worst day in Iraq. And we do that so they can use all their systems, they can to through any possible thing that can happen and teach them how to react to that."

Command Sergeant Major Bobby Moore oversees the entire operation at the National Training Center. He says what's portrayed here is the most realistic combat training in the world. The buildings not only look real ... Many of them are real. They're shipping containers covered with realistic looking facades. Many are two or more stories high.

700 actors -- including several hundred Iraqi Nationals play the roles of town officials, shopkeepers and villagers. And while the bullets are blank cartridges ... They make the same noise as real ammunition ... The army has spared no expense to make this training experience as close to real combat as possible.

Sgt. Neil Werliger from Fort Lewis has never been to Iraq ... But having just experienced his first training exercise ... He has a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Sgt. Neil Werliger said, "As soon as we hit ground and we saw the casualties on the ground with the blood everywhere, that's when it kicked in that it's really time to go ... that was the peak."

Leonard Bryant who plays the role of a wounded soldier was actually an army medic. He recalls one training exercise where an actor was playing the role of a soldier lying in the street with a leg blown off by a roadside bomb.

Leonard Bryant said, "He was on the ground and a medic came up to him and dropped to his knees to treat him and he grabbed him and said 'man don't let me die' and the soldier was like 'wow' and he says 'I'm getting sick!' And once he got in the ambulance he told him, 'when I was in Iraq before ... my sergeant's leg ... the same leg ... the same place ... was blown off.' And he says, 'it just took me back."

The soldiers don't know what's going to happen moment to moment ... even though there is a script that's been written out months in advance, the outcome depends on how the soldiers react.

Captain John Martinez is what the army calls an "Observer-Controller" ... He's like a coach ... But he's also one of the script writers at the National Training Center.

Capt. John Martinez said, "A couple of months out we will link in with the unit at their home station or base and see what their intent is for training. We will cater that scenario around what they want to train on and what they want to focus on."

We spoke with two soldiers from the Valley who had just arrived at the National Training Center. Neither has been to Iraq ... And neither had been to the makeshift Iraqi village, Medina Wasl, to train.

Spc. Santino Saldate said, "Yeah, people have told me different things. I really won't know what to expect til I do it myself."

Sergeant Santino Saldate is from Madera ... His fellow soldier Private First Class Will Rothrock is from Modesto ... Both are stationed in Fort Lewis Washington and will ship out to Iraq in August. Both say they will be ready.

Pfc. Will Rothrock said, "I think it's something I signed up to do ... it was something I knew was going to happen when I signed up ... so it's just part of my duty to go over there and help out."

There are dozens of Iraqi Nationals who play the parts of townspeople, police and Iraqi insurgents ... Most of them live right in the makeshift Iraqi villages ... And they are fiercely loyal to American soldiers.

Alu Banarji said, "We're all one blood ... we bleed the same blood. It's not about Iraqi or American. We're all one and they're still human lives. And we have to save them on both sides ... not just one side."

Watch Action News Tuesday at 5:00 and we'll hear from some of the Iraqi Nationals who are role players at the National Training Center.

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