ON THE ROAD TO FORT POLK, La. — Soldiers in the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team are midway through a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk to prepare for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.

About 3,200 “Black Jack” Brigade soldiers left Fort Hood in waves, starting April 29 for a 30-day rotation at the center to train for a mission to support the withdrawal of forces and equipment from Afghanistan.

The center is about 100,000 acres and has several mock Afghan villages and Afghan role players, whom soldiers will interact with during force-on-force training. The Fort Hood soldiers are preparing for a mission that involves closing down U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

“It’s basically going to be a training model to follow the type of mission we will eventually get when deployed,” said Chief Warrant Officer-3 Jose Vargas, the brigade’s senior warrant officer.

The rotation is broken down into three phases — a situational training exercise, a force-on-force exercise and a live-fire exercise, where soldiers shoot at pop-up targets that shoot back at them, said John Beckwith, a JRTC spokesman. “When (units) show up here for a rotation, they go to forward operating bases and kind of live out of there.”

Beckwith said the center typically runs rotations from January to June and August to November and trains other branches of the military, including Navy SEALS, the Air Force and the National Guard.

“We usually run about 10 rotations a year,” he said. “We even have foreign soldiers that come through here and train.”

After U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan, Beckwith said soldiers will conduct decisive action training exercises at the center.

“The training center won’t go away because of different scenarios throughout the world,” he said. “Iraq has gone away and (when) Afghanistan goes away, there might be another hot spot in the world they might want to start looking at. ... We, at the JRTC, adjust to real-world situations.”

Although Sgt. Joseph Seager, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, has been to Iraq four times, the brigade’s deployment this summer will mark his first tour to Afghanistan.

Seager trained at JRTC before and said his main focus is to make sure other soldiers know what they’re doing and are ready to deploy.

Soldiers training at JRTC for the first time can expect “culture shock,” he said. “It’s a lot of long hours, but definitely good training.”

Contact Sarah Rafique at srafique@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7549. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.

I'm the education reporter at the Killeen Daily Herald. Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SarahRafique

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