AMBUSH EXERCISE TESTS GUARD'S READINESS CHALLENGES RECRUITS
By T.L. Petersen
Observer Staff Writer
The high school senior from The Dalles stood quietly in Sgt. Rick Blooms office Saturday morning, holding two M-162A rifles.
Bloom had left her there, telling her to stay until he returned.
Asked if she minded having orders casually tossed in her direction, a slight grin came to her face.
No, the teen-ager said. Its better if they never notice you.
She is a new recruit to the Army National Guard, a teen with a mom who served in the Air Force and a father now working as a recruiter.
She was not going to join the military. No way.
But now theres college to pay for and, she shrugs, after Sept. 11 her outlook has changed.
The girl was one of about 28 young people who joined another 30 to 40 National Guard members in a field training exercise Friday evening and all day Saturday.
The exercise was ambush. The opposition force, the red team, hid in ambush along Hidden Valley Road near Union to take out the blue force.
The weekend exercises had several purposes.
First, the Guard tries to conduct a couple of field training exercises a year that bring together the various specialized units under the authority of the headquarters company in La Grande, Bloom explained. The exercises help keep everyone sharp for the formal summertime exercises at Gowan Field, south of Boise, when tanks and other artillery are used.
Then there is the goal of introducing new recruits, who havent had a chance to go to basic training, to some simple things, such as how to respond to commands, how to hold weapons, what hand signals mean, and how to keep from getting in trouble with drill sergeants.
Theres also a chance, as the Guard did Saturday, to let non-enlisted young people be Guards for a Day joining in field exercises with Guard officers.
It is, Bloom confessed, an excellent recruiting opportunity.
Most of the new recruits participating this weekend will attend Army basic training for eight to 10 weeks by the end of the summer. Most will also do that training, Bloom said, at a military post east of the Mississippi and may even see another post before they finish their specialized training.
Bloom knows of one recruit who plans to be a tanker, operating a tank with the unit. That recruit will train in the West. Others will be assigned a post based on their specialization goals. Steven Wilkins of La Grande wants to be a Guard legal specialist. Laura Gawith of Elgin will specialize to be a 68 Delta, an aircraft power train mechanic.
Moving into the field Saturday wasnt all a game of laser tag. It was cold, and officers were pointing out wind-driven, wet places to hide for the ambush. And there was a lot of time spent quietly waiting.
And waiting some more.
Then the convoy appeared. Smoke bombs blew up the narrow bridge. Sharp-shooters rappelled down to the road. One recruit slipped into the cold creek water. Exploding blank shells echoed off the canyon walls. Loaded with gear, soldiers scrambled into better positions, got to meeting points, or died.
In Guard parlance, the ambush exercise was a chance to crawl before basic training where recruits learn to walk.
Nobody voiced any doubts out loud. When sergeants pointed, recruits looked and nodded. When orders were barked, recruits moved.
Almost to a person, Bloom grins, recalling the several ambush re-enactments that occurred during the day, they loved it and would do it again.
Reach T.L. Petersen at