It's no Sunday drive. Just getting anywhere in Iraq these days is dangerous business. And our neighbors from the Third Infantry Division are in the middle of the trouble as they start their latest mission in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
They're doing what the Army does best. Training. Imagine packing up literally tons of gear and moving it a few hundred miles. Say from here to Atlanta. But along the way, few friendly faces and plenty of danger.
As they train in the Kuwaiti desert, it's really only the camels they have to worry about. But Baghdad and the mission are nearly three days away by a long, dangerous convoy. And the insurgents are watching.
They start with what they call a "sand table." Blocks of wood on the desert floor, representing trucks and Humvees, carrying them north through Iraq.
The next step, load up and move out. Dry runs through the motor pool, learning to deal with improvised explosive devices--the infamous IEDs, all too common in today's Iraq.
Then what to do when things go wrong. Defensive formations, essentially circling the wagons.
The last step, a several-mile ride through a shooting gallery with small buildings, road hazards and debris. But on this convoy rehearsal, there are targets in the towns, and danger.
They use real ammunition, taking aim on the kinds of threats they'll face for the next year, hiding in abandoned cars and roadside windows. The troops have to decide in an instant who's shooting at them, and who's an innocent bystander.
The training so real, it even includes highway overpasses, and techniques that might just save their lives as they drive through the cities.
Then an explosion...an IED takes out a Humvee, and the whole convoy has to respond. One soldier down, so just like in the real world, they have to stabilize him, and get him to a safe spot, where they stage a medevac.
The insurgents are already testing them under fire. The first convoy from Kuwait to Baghdad left the day our team arrived in Kuwait and took fire at several points along the three-day route and had to deal with at least one improvised explosive device.
Reported by: Mike Manhatton, email@example.com