When I asked the Killeen Daily Herald to send me to the National Training Center with the Greywolf Brigade, I did so because I thought it would be interesting to provide a first-hand account of what exactly the training was. I thought if I was interested, surely our readership would as well.
Once the stories started to run, I was overwhelmed at the response they were getting. People not only found it interesting, but I realized I was also provided the some of the only information family members were getting about their soldiers.
When soldiers entered the box, they had to give up their cell phones, laptops, any connections to the outside world, because in a real world scenario, the enemy could access those conversations and use the information against them.
Between the Facebook shares, the emails and the online comments, I realized I was their window to Fort Irwin.
Two of the emails I received were from family members asking me to wish their soldier a happy birthday. I was actually able to track down one of them among the 5,000 soldiers spread across 1,200 square miles.
When I relayed the birthday message to Spc. Gallardo, he said I made his day. He read his wife’s email on my cell phone with a huge smile on his face.
Two weeks doesn’t sound like a long time to be out of contact with a son, daughter, husband or wife, but when times are hard or stressful, you really miss that person you lean on. As the soldiers come out of the box today, I know they are all making those calls home.
All of the response from the community really made the stress of my time in the box worthwhile. On Thursday as the sun began to set, I was tired, dirty and freezing. I was running on three hours of sleep, I’d lost my gloves and I hadn’t eaten anything more than a snack bar all day. I couldn’t get Internet access to file my story and my deadline was fast approaching. To be honest, I was ready to quit. Four days in the box for a reporter is enough, right? When I finally reached out for help I wanted to say, just take me back with you, please! I’ve done enough.
But I didn’t. I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn’t stick it out, so I sucked it up, hitched a ride from an observer controller back to brigade headquarters and kept on going.
I’m glad I did, because on Friday, I got several more great interviews and a yet another aspect of the brigade’s training. That’s also the day I was able to find Spc. Gallardo.
I wouldn’t call myself Army strong, because I certainly am not built for the life of a soldier, but I came out of the box much tougher than when I went in.
Thanks so much to everyone who read my stories during this past week. You truly did keep me motivated.