November 07, 2007 Edition

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Training continues for 39th Brigade

Spec. 4 Carlton Winters of Walnut Ridge (front) and Spec. 4 Herbert Moore of Jonesboro, members of the Arkansas National Guard's 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, check a truck for IEDs during a drill near the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport. The drill was one of several the soldiers will be practicing before leaving for training in Mississippi in early 2008.

Amber Adams
Staff Writer

In October, just over 3,000 soldiers reported to their local armories for military duty in preparation for deployment to Iraq with the Arkansas National Guard's 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Company A 2nd Battalion 153rd Infantry, located in Walnut Ridge, was among those activated.

The 90-day pre-mobilization training program, which began on Oct. 1, has been in full swing since, according to Lt. Clint Leonard. The group works five days a week now that they are on active duty. They have physical training each morning. During the day they do field training and briefing.

"Its important for them to go through these briefings as well as the training," said Leonard. He added that they learn vital information including cultural awareness so that in the field they will be able to tell a Sunni from a Shiite. Each soldier must be proficient in 215 warrior training tasks prior to deployment in January. Examples include first aid, communications and weapons.

"We've really seen a lot of improvement from the guys," Leonard said. "I think they are finally getting used to being full-time."

One of the drills the unit has been practicing is Checkpoint Safety Operations. When a vehicle pulls up to a safe area, the occupants' names are checked against a list. If they appear on a list they are pulled into an area surrounded by a HESCO Barrier, which is normally a six-foot high, four-foot wide dirt wall. The entire vehicle and its occupants are searched for anything suspicious. If something questionable is found, they are moved to another search area and, finally, a containment area.

Another drill covers several tasks the soldiers must be able to complete including react to contact, react to chemical contact and break contact. In this drill, the unit has been alerted to enemies within a building. They move in and sweep the building, reacting to a contact. When someone signals that there is gas present, each soldier must put on his or her mask and other protective gear, if required. Once the command has been given to break contact, they move to a safe distance.

The unit will continue local training for several weeks before spending an additional four to eight weeks at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, which will be its mobilization station prior to leaving for Iraq, in early 2008.

"The training in Mississippi will be real time," said Leonard. "That's what we are getting them ready for now." He added that they will be using real equipment and live ammo there, as the base has more resources than are available here.

"That is the best training area the Army has to send soldiers before going to Iraq," Leonard said of Camp Shelby.

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