To prepare for the rigors of combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, East Africa and other conflict zones, the U.S. Special Forces visit the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, for several weeks of hyper-realistic training. Bryan William Jones paid a visit to see the training first-hand.
by BRYAN WILLIAM JONES
I had checked out.
The environment was so complete that, for a discrete moment, I had completely forgotten that we were still in the continental United States. Perhaps it was the smell of kebabs cooking or the sound of singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan playing from the electronics shop, which also sold pirated Western DVDs. Maybe it was the afternoon call to prayer coming from the tops of the minarets in the local mosque. It could have been the women selling bread, fruits or flowers by the side of the road — or the Arabic men playing backgammon in the cafe with shisha pipes. Toyota trucks or bicycles being repaired in the roadside repair shops under Iraqi flags added to the realism, as did the tangle of wires on poles carrying telephone and electricity around town. But the thing that really completed it was the sound of Baghdadi Arabic from a gentleman greeting us as we drove through town.
Even though this was a simulation — albeit a sophisticated one, where you know and acknowledge that you are not in hostile territory — there is nevertheless a certain palpable tension that grows as you proceed through town, not knowing which persons by the side of the road are civilians or insurgents looking to attack. An attack might take the form of a small-arms ambush, a sniper, a rocket-propelled grenade or the most feared assault: an Improvised Explosive Device that explodes as you pass by.
I watched a blue pick-up lurch out in front of the “Lyndon Marcus International Hotel” in the town center. A convoy of soldiers was coming through town from the other direction. Sensing a potential ambush, I set up cameras to capture the action. Still, I was completely unprepared for the chest thumping BOOM! that followed from up the road, next to the convoy. There was falling debris and a rising dust cloud. AK-47s chattered from nearby windows. As the U.S. soldiers established positions, pictured, and returned fire with their M-4 carbines and mounted M-240s, the smell of gunpowder wafted through the air.
In the next installment, the “battle” rages.
(Photo: Bryan William Jones)