In a matter of months, thousands of local soldiers will say goodbye to their families and travel to the other side of the world. They'll begin peacekeeping duties in Iraq. WTOC's Dal Cannady recently spent a few days with many of them as they trained to return to the fight.
For Third Infantry soldiers, the trip to Fort Polk's Joint Readiness Training Center is a two- or three-week rehearsal for the challenges of their deployment to Iraq. To their families, it's a prelude to the year they'll spend apart.
"Well, we're gone from our families now," said Capt. John Crotzer of 1-3 Aviation. "So I guess that prepares them for the fact we'll be leaving and maybe mentally prepares them that we'll be leaving. I think for the kids, it's hardest that Mom or Dad, Brother or Sister will be gone. But I think it's an easy way to get them into it."
Despite all the simulations during training, soldiers can still open a cell phone and call home when the mood strikes. In Iraq, the calls or emails will be less frequent and more important.
"It is very tough, but my wife is very tough and very supportive you know," said Sgt. Ansley Brown. "We talk about it all the time. She plays a very important role in whatever I do."
As Marne Division troops prepare for the dangers of Iraq, they say the worries of home must shift to the back of their minds to keep them alert and focused.
"The most important weapon in the United States arsenal is the soldier himself, and if the soldier isn't focused, he's just as ineffective as if his equipment isn't operational," said CW4 Vincent Stella.
When they're not in training, soldiers see the reports of events as they continue to unfold in the Middle East. CWO2 David Hall told us, "I definitely feel a lot of pride and pride within the unit and pride within the Army that our country counts on us to do the right thing.
With the world watching, troops know plenty rides on that right thing. "We want the Iraqi people to know we're on their side to help them regain control of their country and let democracy flourish for them and give them the same benefits we have," said Capt. Crotzer. "Last time we had a different mode of operation, but we were still trying to liberate them as opposed to the way it is now with the enemy tactics and stuff."
Soldiers say their training how to shoot will only take them so far. They'll rely on instincts to determine when they shouldn't.
We don't know exactly when the bulk of the Third Infantry will deploy. Commanders have only said early next year. They expect to be gone at least 12 months. We'll keep you posted.