Training the Iowa troops

CAMP RIPLEY -- By the end of next week, Iowa National Guard soldiers should head home after spending two weeks or more at Camp Ripley. But they won't remain home for long. By the end of July, they will begin traveling to Camp Shelby in Mississipp...

National Guard members
Justine Wettschreck/Daily Globe Iowa National Guard members attend annual training at Camp Ripley in preparation for a fall deployment to Afghanistan.

CAMP RIPLEY -- By the end of next week, Iowa National Guard soldiers should head home after spending two weeks or more at Camp Ripley.

But they won't remain home for long. By the end of July, they will begin traveling to Camp Shelby in Mississippi for more training, then will head to Fort Irwin, Calif., where time in the Mojave Desert will help them acclimate for their ultimate destination -- Afghanistan.

According to Brig. Gen. Timothy Orr, more than 3,000 Iowa Army National Guard members will spend approximately 270 days in Afghanistan.

"This is the largest deployment of the Iowa National Guards since World War II," Orr, Iowa Adjutant General and director of the Iowa Department of Public Defense, explained earlier this week during a media briefing at the military camp near Little Falls. "My job is to make sure they are properly trained, properly led and properly equipped."

For the first time in Iowa's history, the annual state training of all Iowa National Guard members is taking place at the same time. Each member is being trained and certified in weapons proficiency, urban operations, casualty evacuation, Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), traffic control points and more. Each score in each exercise is recorded.


"Each soldier is given a go/no go, and they have to be able to pass it all in order to be mobilized," Orr said.

Because there is so much to be accomplished, not only were the soldiers who are to be deployed sent to Camp Ripley, but an additional 700 to 800 soldiers to serve as support staff were also called in, according to Lt. Col. Tim Glynn, officer in charge of the Distinguished Visitors Bureau at Camp Ripley.

"This gives the soldiers deploying more time to work on Army Warrior Tasks," he explained. "Those include the ability to shoot, move, communicate, survive and adapt."

Glynn said about 30 percent of the soldiers heading to Afghanistan have been deployed previously, which gives their brigade an advantage in experience. Iowa's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 34th Infantry Division, will support ongoing operations and the training of Afghan National Security Forces.

While they provide that support, Orr and the brigade are hoping friends, families and communities will support the soldiers.

"Our soldiers are focused on getting their families ready and preparing for the mission," he said when the mobilization was announced last fall. "Iowans, especially those soldiers from the 2nd BCT, have a proud history of answering the nation's call to duty. The soldiers of this generation will serve with the same honor and distinction as previous Red Bull soldiers."

Subordinate units included in the deployment are the 1st 113th Cavalry, 1st Battalion 133rd and 168th Infantry, 1st Battalion 194th Field Artillery and the 334th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB). The units are from a variety of Iowa towns such as Council Bluffs, Fort Dodge, Cedar Rapids, Newton, Waterloo, Sioux City, Storm Lake, Dubuque and Estherville.

In an effort to garner support, Orr and the Iowa National Guard Public Relations Office invited media from across the state to embed with the soldiers for a short time, giving reporters and photographers a chance to watch training maneuvers and certification testing and experience life at a Forward Operations Base (FOB). Each media representative was fitted with a Kevlar vest and helmet, handed an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) and assigned to a unit.


On Monday night, part of the Estherville unit, 1st Battalion 194th Field Artillery, was working on night weapons qualifications, firing tracer rounds at targets across a field. The red tracers streaking across the field in a black sky and the accompanying shots ringing out were reminiscent of a July 4 celebration. People chatting and laughing in the background furthered that impression unless an onlooker noted the uniforms, protective gear and guns as soldiers waited for their turns to qualify.

The laughter and talk is part of what keeps the fear of leaving their families to go to war at bay.

Capt. Steve Johnson, commander of Golf Company 334, and distribution platoon leader 1st Lt. Stacey Lampe, both said the camaraderie between the soldiers during training helps them deal with weighty thoughts.

"Everyone here is going through the same thing," Johnson stated. "The Army tells us what we have to do, but one thing we can control is our attitude."

He relayed a story from earlier in his career when infantry training had just begun -- something he referred to as "infantry kindergarten." Uncooperative weather, bugs and exhaustion had led to dispirited and cranky soldiers until one person noticed a large mud puddle in the field. With a smile, that soldier took a running start and slid through the puddle, catching the attention of the rest of the troops. Within moments, everyone, from the highest ranked officers to the lowest ranked soldier, was laughing and playing.

"We have a motto here," Johnson said. "We say 'Embrace the suck.' To this day I will always remember all of us sliding through the mud on infantry kindergarten day."

"Camaraderie is huge," Lampe reiterated the following morning.

Picking her way through the mud at FOB Yankee 2, she glanced around at soldiers dressed either in their military gear or Army-issue shorts and T-shirt. Each one was going about his or her business or relaxing in the brief time allotted for them to do so. In the unique position of being one of 11 women at the FOB, and the only female officer, Lampe talked about being part of a unit and the comfort of knowing her fellow soldiers had her back at any time.


"There is an informal mentorship, and these people are some of the best I have ever known," she stated. "I've only been with Golf Company a couple of months, but we have good leadership, and we meld together pretty well in our unit."

Supporting each other now and when they are deployed is the best way to keep morale up and soldiers focused on the tasks that need completion, she said.

Examples of that support were readily apparent throughout the variety of exercises and training operations. At the artillery range, two soldiers worked together to hang a red flag identifying the area as one where shelling would soon commence. During a field operation to train for vehicle-borne IED, soldiers collaborated to evaluate the "wounds" of a downed guard member while others held an "unfriendly" at gun point. When a medic chopper flew in to evacuate the "wounded" soldier, some men joined efforts to load the patient while others stood a vigilant guard with weapons at the ready.

"We have to work together and be ready to trust the person next to us," Johnson stated, watching one man double-check another soldier's protective gear during weapons certification. "The willing and professional attitude of these people is incredible."

While media members loaded up gear and prepared to head back to the Chinook helicopter that had delivered them to Camp Ripley, they were stopped by a chaplain from FOB Yankee 2.

"Remind the people back home that our soldiers need their prayers and support," he said.

Soldiers IED training
Justine Wettschreck/Daily Globe Iowa National Guard soldiers train to handle an Improvised Explosive Device in a vehicle.

What To Read Next
Get Local