On the Homefront- How Soldiers Prepare to Deploy

By: Tamara Evans Email
By: Tamara Evans Email

It's a topic that is constantly coming under fire.

In 2003, the U.S. began it's war on terrorism. Since that time thousands of soldiers have deployed to Iraq to be part of the war and thousands more are set to soon go.

At Fort Campbell, nearly 23,000 soldiers make up the 101st Airborne Division. A large number of these men and women will soon be deploying.

"Well over about 10,000 soldier are going to be going to Iraq starting in the September time frame going through October. After the October time frame, we will concentrate on those going to Afghanistan, which by large is the rest of our division. To get there we've had to prepare these units through a series of training,' Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser said.

Medically, Fort Campbell soldiers are trained using human-like models to prepare them for what they could see while fighting.

"We're about three-years ahead of the rest of the army," said Paul Stevens, with the 101st Airborne Division.

"He has pulses within him. He has pupil area responses just like a human would," Stevens explained about the model.

"We try to do all of our training in low-light or no-light conditions. If you can do it in the dark, you can do it in the day," Stevens added.

"A good assessment only takes 30-seconds or less," Sgt. FC Niles Arrington said.

Physically, the soldiers are tested in different ways, whether it be hooked up to equipment...

"What we generate here is data on what are our weaknesses, what are our strengths. What can we do to improve our physical fitness training," said Mark McGrail, a 101st Division Surgeon.

...to the real physical activity.

"There's nine obstacles on this obstacle course. The soldiers must successfully negotiate those nine obstacles and a two-mile run immediately following, just to be considered students in the Air Assault School," Staff Sgt. Schmidt said.

But training isn't all just the physical work. There's also the mental training.

"It may look like a video game to many of you," Maj. Gen. Schloesser said about the virtual-reality Engagement Skills Trainer.

This type of training gives soldiers shooting scenarios without the live ammunition.

"The soldier can get very frustrated out on the range shooting. He can come in here and build his confidence up and then go out on the range and apply what he learned here," instructor James Hall said.

The most helpful training is one we weren't allowed to see.

With improvised explosive devices being the biggest killer on the battlefield in Iraq, Fort Campbell has IED training for their soldiers.

"We build IED devices now, of course when they blow up they don't hurt anybody or kill anybody, but it certainly gets your attention if you're a soldier near one," Maj. Gen. Schloesser said.

With more soldiers set to deploy, the commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division says he is confident with their training and equipment.

"It's alot better than it was three years ago, I'll tell you that," Maj. Gen. Schloesser assured.

The one thing he said he sometimes worries about is just the support they receive.

"What they do want from the citizens, the American citizens, is they want the acknowledgment that what they're doing is important, because again you're asking them to give up their lives in some cases. I would encourage American citizens to take this very seriously. This could be your son or daughter out there," Maj. Gen. Schloesser explained.

Soldiers being deployed can be hard on communities and families, but there are places these loved ones can turn to to get the support that they need.

Fort Campbell offers a Family Resource Center that provides education and outreach programs for families while their soldiers are home or deployed.

As for the training soldiers go through, Fort Campbell officers say what they are doing is working.

Officers with the division say they have the lowest "died of wound rates" out of any conventional military force and compared to many sites, Fort Campbell is ranked among the best places to be trained.

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