For thousands of Fort Stewart soldiers, their tour of duty is not complete without weeks of grueling training in the Mojave desert at Fort Irwin, California. Many say victory in Iraq was due in large part to training they got at the National Training Center.
WTOC spent some time with one group of soldiers while they were training at this huge practice facility where troops learn to fight in the desert. They also fight against what may be the toughest Army in the world.
"This is the crown jewel of the Army, because it's the only place in the country we can train a brigade size team of heavy forces or light forces against a world-class opposing force and have near perfect information with the NTC instrumentation system," explained Maj. Jack VanTress, secretary for general staff at Fort Irwin.
They fight against the 11th Advanced Calvary Regiment, the Army's premiere opposition force ("Op For") or scout team. With each visiting unit, the Op For wins 90 percent of the battles.
"The Op For is the best opponent we have in the world, probably the best opponent we have in the world," Capt. Robert Lopez with the Third Infantry Division's 2nd Unit of Action. "They give us all we can handle. The conditions are very harsh. They're probably the closest we have to Iraq in a lot of ways. The stress and training really test the unit. I can't really think of anything that's harder in terms of up tempo and conditions."
At the NTC, the opposition force says it doesn't want to be as tough as war. They want to be worse. The battles utilize sophisticated laser equipment that records each miss or hit on vehicles, buildings or soldiers. The training plan comes straight from what the next enemy is doing today.
Just like in war, soldiers greet each sunrise in stand to. They await an attack at dawn when they might be considered vulnerable. Sure enough, we were there as a truck approached their gate and pretended to explode.
"It's a good reaction drill for the team that's out here," said Sgt. Dennis Pearson of the 2nd UA. "As they approach the vehicle, they normally detonate the bomb and everything in a 25-meter radius will get either destroyed, KIA, or wounded and two people were killed this time, and one wounded."
The truck, however, did not get in.
Soldiers say endless drills in simulation here could mean the difference between victory and defeat in the real battle. Whether in the brigade or unit of action system, soldiers spend a month at the NTC. The opposition force tries to squeeze an entire war into 14 days of fighting, and they manage to work in some target practice as well.
All of this reorganization and this intense training is because the Third Infantry's work in Iraq is not finished. Coming up tomorrow, we'll get their thoughts on the return to that region as we wrap up our look at the new Third ID.