By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Killeen Daily Herald

I'm on my way to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., where I'll spend a week with the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team. The Big Red One soldiers have been in the California desert all January. I got a call from the brigade's public affairs officer before I left today. It's cold, she said. And raining. She was sick. She sounded miserable.

So really, I shouldn't complain. I'll only be there through Saturday. If I can get out of these airports, that is. It's not entirely a bad situation, I suppose. Sure, there are much better ways one could spend her time than sitting at the Killeen airport for 5.5 hours ... then sitting in the plane on the runway for 40 minutes ... then the Dallas airport for 3 hours. That's where I am now.

Hopefully my borrowed Army duffel bag and borrowed Kevlar and body armor are awaiting me at the Ontario International Airport. Hopefully my public affairs escort is, too. The airport is several hours from Fort Irwin and I was supposed to arrive there at 10:55 a.m. I'm not.

As far as military reporting gigs go, this is pretty cool. Most of the reactions I've received from soldiers when I told them about my trip is, "Ooooh. Have fun." Insert sarcasm everywhere. Sure, they're used to this stuff. But, for the rest of us in Killeen, "NTC" is this thing we hear about. The soldiers go. Contact is limited. They come back. All we know is that they went to the desert. Maybe it's just hard to explain what happens there, but that's where I come in.

The best thing about being a military reporter is being that link between the Army and the other 99 percent of the American population who know little about this institution beyond camouflage and war. I am not a soldier, nor have I ever been one. I was a Fort Bliss Army brat for less than 12 months before my dad got out and went back to the family farm in Kansas. But I love to write about the Army and all those things soldiers and their families go through.

So, that's why I, along with Joe's duffel bag, baby wipes, new hiking boots and the Killeen Daily Herald's laptop, am headed west. With these journal entries and daily articles, I'll let you know what NTC is - from a non-greensuiter's perspective. If I ever get there, that is.

Look for a culmination of the trip and the soldiers' and my experiences in the Feb. 6 issue of the Fort Hood Herald. But now, finally, it's time to board the plane. Soon, I'll be back in my comfort zone, seeing Army Combat Uniforms wherever I go. It's been a full 2.5 hours since I've seen a soldier and it's a bit weird.

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