Whittier College Students Visit Military Training Center
On a cold Thursday morning, political science professor Fred Bergerson boarded a charter bus with 17 of his students and headed to Fort Irwin and the National Training Center (NTC) located in California's Mojave Desert. This fieldtrip to one of the major training areas for the United States army is part of Bergerson's Jan Term course, Warfare: In Pursuit of Military Security.
[Fort Irwin] Upon arriving to the NTC, the group was welcomed by First Lieutenants Nicholas Israel and Michael Keyser who served as guides during the visit. Israel is a member of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the Blackhorse Cavalry, stationed at the base to assist with the training rotations.
After a quick introduction the students were ushered into a small lecture room for a meeting with Fort Irwin's commanding officer Brigadier General Terry Ferrell.
Having served in the army for 28 years, Ferrell provided valuable insight into the career path of a military officer. He also spoke at length about the role that the training center plays within the military.
Approximately the size of Rhode Island, the center houses 4,000 soldiers and their families and employees another 3,000 civilians. The fort has three schools and a "one of everything," including restaurants, stores, and a bowling alley. About 50,000 soldiers pass through the NTC on route to posts in combat zones.
One of the unique aspects of the base is the presence of several mock towns which are used to train troops in urban warfare prior to their deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. The California desert provides a perfect background for these simulations that include a variety of buildings like mosques, schools, and markets filled with Farsi and Arabic speaking actors playing street vendors, local policemen, and insurgents.
Standing on the roof of one of the makeshift buildings, student observed as soldiers rode into the town and were ambushed by insurgents. The observers were witnesses to a scene that included exploding vehicles, wounded soldiers, and controlled chaos.
"How unexpected that truck bomb would have been. They are just driving down the road and the next thing you knowâ€¦ stuff just got real. It kind of puts the things that the soldiers go through in a lot more real perspective. It's a lot easier now to empathize with people who just came back and are jumpy at the sign of anything. It makes sense now. If you can be driving down the street and the wall blows up, I'd be jumpy at everything too," said Ryan Richard '13.
According to Bergerson one of the goals of this trip is in fact to connect students to the realities faced my military personnel.
"Prior to coming here I definitely had respect for the military and for what they do, but actually seeing it in action, I think you get an even greater respect and an awareness of how real it is," said Tyler Zickel '12.
"We play video games and see it on TV, but you can detach from it. Being here and seeing it actually happen in the simulation , that is real, or as close to real as we are going to get," he adds.