Today they’re firing blanks, but the men and women of Florida’s 53rd Infantry Brigade will be using live ammo all too soon. Twelve hundred soldiers from the National Guard unit are shipping out this month for a one-year tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Command Sergeant MAJ Robert Hosford says, “As the Afghanistans build their own army to take care of their own defense force, we’re supplying soldiers over there to train and assist them in getting prepared to accomplish that mission."
These soldiers have spent the past two months training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi. In this exercise, they have to separate a suspect from a hostile crowd of civilians, knowing there could be snipers nearby.
CAPT Dan Schwartz of the U.S. Army says, “We’re out there to win the hearts and minds of the local people as well as destroy the enemy insurgents in the area. You’ve got to find a fine balance between the two.”
This time, there were two snipers lying in wait. The Army calls this “theater immersion” training. The lesson: there are no front lines; every location and every situation is a potential combat zone.
COL Dan Zajac of Brandon, FL says, “Would I be willing to stand up and say that we can replicate real life combat here? No, because we can’t have real bullets shot by a real aggressor who’s ready to throw his life away to kill Americans. There’s no way you can replicate that.”
But that doesn’t stop them from trying, using mock villages, convoy runs and a high-tech simulator that puts normal video games to shame as it puts the soldiers through their paces.
In his next report, Rick tells us how the Florida Guard is preparing for convoy duty, which has turned out to be one of the most dangerous missions for our troops overseas.