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La Grande Observer Paper 07/23/14

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Home arrow Opinion arrow MY VOICE arrow Battalion is ready to go

Battalion is ready to go

BOISE — A reoccurring theme has emerged during this annual training period on the vast, high-desert Orchard Training Area and it is a simple sentiment: Let’s get going.

Over and over again while I’ve drifted from one company to another in the 3rd Battalion, I keep hearing the same refrain: Let’s just get going.

The sentiment is not delivered with negative overtones. No one appears frustrated. Instead there is a workmanlike sense of responsibility evident in the words, a kind of blue-collar motif stamped with a calm realization that the sooner the battalion gets to Iraq the sooner it can go home.

There is the job, though, and everyone appears to see the upcoming deployment as a job — as if a field of Pendleton wheat needs to be cut or a herd of beef must be herded to slaughter or the fence out on the north end of the pasture should be mended.

A job to do. That’s how many of the Guardsmen I’ve listened to over the past two weeks view the upcoming deployment and it is a task they take seriously and consider important. And they want to get to it.

They are not impatient, well not really, but eager to get into the job and get it done right and come home.

If anyone carried illusions about the deployment — its dangers, its challenges — that sentiment was squashed early on with the training. Instructors and others who have already been to Iraq made it clear that a deployment to the cradle of civilization carries risk. Real risk, all the time.

But the eagerness to get over and get going on the job has overshadowed just about everything here.

The training session here at the Orchard Training Area is no cakewalk. Long days, punctuated with high temperatures and then cold nights that seem to suck all the heat from your body, are the norm here.

The training is realistic and designed to give Guardsmen a brief taste of the kind of stress they may face in Iraq.

For one, sleep, at least early on, was a luxury. While things have calmed a bit — the training schedule is not as full as it was a week ago — Guardsmen are still spending a lot of time learning their trade.

That trade includes mastering their personal weapon — the M4 rifle or the 9mm pistol — or the bigger, crew-served weapons like the .50-caliber or 240 machine guns. And then there are myriad other tasks soldiers must know — how to evacuate a casualty under fire, how to avoid an improvised explosive device and so on.

By the middle of last week most 3rd Battalion soldiers started what are called STIX lanes. The Army loves acronyms and STIX is another name for an exercise where Guardsmen practice small-unit tactics. They work in small teams and practice moving under enemy fire or storming a building. Then they practice again. And again. The exercise is designed to hone cooperation between Guardsmen in a high-stress environment such as Iraq.

By the middle of this week, the battalion will move out of the field and, by Sept. 10, most will be on their way back home for a brief leave. Then it will be on to Mississippi for more training and then Iraq.

Yet if enthusiasm is any measure, most of the soldiers of the 3rd Battalion are already mentally ready to go.

Pat Caldwell is a combat correspondent assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team. Caldwell grew up in  La Grande and spent more than 18 years in the newspaper business in Oregon.

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