• September 22, 2014

Learning about life inside "The Box"

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Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2013 1:58 pm | Updated: 11:11 pm, Sat May 18, 2013.

I’ve only been at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., for a few hours, but I’ve already learned there are many parts that go into operating any military mission – especially training for combat, which is what about 3,200 soldiers in Fort Hood’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division are doing as they prepare to deploy to Afghanistan this summer.

When I first arrived at the Fort Polk public affairs office this morning to get briefed for my trip to “the box,” I saw men and women dressed in Afghan garb, preparing for their roles, which play a crucial part in ensuring the environment and situations soldiers face at the training center simulate the situations they’ll face in Afghanistan as best as possible. 

Hundreds of role players take part in the rotation, portraying anything from media or locals perusing a market to leaders in the Afghan National Security Forces.

I also received a “casualty card,” and other gear, which means I’m officially part of the “game.” When soldiers “die,” they will be out-processed and re-enter in the same amount of time it would take the Army to find a replacement soldier for them.

So far, my day as been a bit slow as I try to set up interviews and decide which battalions I’ll visit throughout my five days here. The force-on-force training kicked off around noon today and although I haven’t been able to see any combat action, I’ve watched the public affairs officers as they churn out press releases of “attacks” on troops and the injuries sustained by those.

Right now, I’m at Forward Operating Base Sword, surrounded by computers, wires, televisions and public affairs officers as I wait to interview Col. Robert Whittle, brigade commander. Around 10 p.m. tonight, I’ll travel via helicopter to Forward Operating Base Anvil, which is about 3 miles away. While there, I will embed with 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment as they conduct their command outpost simulation, essentially closing out the base the way they will once deployed.

The difficulty with planning stories for the newspaper is that they’re constantly changing. The soldiers won’t know when they’ll be “attacked” or confronted by an obstacle, so the stories you’ll read in the Killeen Daily Herald depend on the stories I hear from these soldiers as different situations arise during their training. As I spend the next five days traveling throughout about 100,000 acres of training grounds, I look forward to telling these soldiers’ stories and keeping their fellow Fort Hood soldiers, family members and the surrounding community informed.

-- Sarah Rafique

Read more in Friday’s Killeen Daily Herald.

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