FORT IRWIN, Calif. — Behind the tanks, the Bradleys and the front lines of the fighting, soldiers work around the clock to sustain the battle.

And while the fighting is simulated at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., the sustainment element often is not. Soldiers out here really need food and water, and they actually get injured.

Third Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, is finishing its last week of two in the Mojave Desert training grounds of Fort Irwin known as “the box,” and the “Greywolf” Brigade’s sustainers have operated just as they would in combat.

Capt. Michael Lada, the acting brigade surgeon, said operating in this training environment and operating downrange are exactly the same.

“The things we’re given for role-play are insignificant to the real-world stuff we are doing,” he said.

About 80 percent of the illnesses and injuries he’s seen are real-world.

Soldiers are getting sick and need medical treatment. Crush injuries also are common, because of working with so much heavy equipment.

Lada also was able to talk to the observer-controllers at the training center to let them know what medical emergencies he would like his team to see. So, if he would like them to see a cardiac patient, and a real incident doesn’t occur, one will be simulated.

“We don’t get the opportunity to do training like this very often at all, so it’s invaluable,” Lada said of setting up the mobile center, and tracking and budgeting supplies.

During the last decade of war, U.S. forces have operated out of forward operating installations. This training center rotation is emphasizing decisive action and potential future threats, so troops have to survive with what they have. That means even though there are forward bases within the training center for ongoing training for units deploying to Afghanistan, Greywolf can’t use them.

“A lot of soldiers hadn’t seen this type of operation before. To experience it for the first time puts on a light bulb,” said Lt. Col. Herbert Willingham, commander of Greywolf’s 215th Brigade Support Battalion.

“The environment provides the opportunity to strengthen our limits,” he said.

Companies from the support battalion have elements at the front lines with each of Greywolf’s maneuver battalions, and supplies are sent down as needed.

The box is about 1,200 square miles, so convoys must travel significant distances under the threat of criminal cartels and roadside bombs.

The support battalion’s service and recovery team also rides these roads to collect vehicles that have actually broken down, and those that are simulated.

“We’ve towed just about everything we could out here,” said Pfc. Alexander Hobart, a support battalion soldier who works on the M-88 A2 tow vehicle nicknamed “Hercules.”

“It’s a lot of different scenarios of other recovery jobs we haven’t done,” he said. “It’s a lot of on-hand learning.”

One night the 11-member recovery team picked up three vehicles, said Chief Warrant Officer-2 Kimberly Osteen, service and recovery technician for the support battalion.

“We have soldiers that haven’t deployed before, and this is giving them that environment of what it would be like,” she said. “The op-tempo, too, the fast pace. You have to get used to the stress.”

As the support soldiers operate, Willingham said safety and risk management are top priorities.

“Even though we have a mission to do, we have to find a balance between the two,” he said. “They have to get the proper rest.”

Willingham said he’s proud of the work his soldiers have accomplished during the training center rotation. They’ve remained focused and positive, despite the living conditions.

“It allows soldiers to see what they can do,” Willingham said. “When it’s all said and done, they can say, ‘I got through it. I accomplished the mission and I can do more than I thought I could.’”

Contact Rose L. Thayer at or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.

Rose L. Thayer is the military editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. She joined the paper in February 2011 as a health and military reporter. View her complete profile Here.

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