FORT POLK, La. — About 4,500 National Guard soldiers from North Carolina will soon be heading to Iraq as replacements. Members of the 30th Brigade Combat Team got called to active duty in September. Now, they are training for urban warfare at Fort Polk in Louisiana for some of the Army's most realistic training.
The town of Narbar Jahr was hit hard during the war. North Carolina National Guard soldiers make daily trips to the fictitious Iraqi village to help, paying close attention to security.
On one trip, they meet with religious leaders who complain insurgents are hiding weapons under their mosques. When a group of townspeople begin to get hostile, troops hand out food.
Scenarios like this are a big part of urban warfare training at Fort Polk.
"This is pretty much how it's going to be over there, so we're adjusting, trying to get used to the environment," said Spc. Andrea Smith of Fayetteville.
At home, Smith is a stay-at-home mom. Here, she is learning the role of a full-time warrior.
"All the training that we've been getting and that we're going to go through before we get there -- I'm pretty confident that we're going to get over there and come back safe,"she said.
Soldiers practice humanitarian relief, riot control and security checkpoints. They learn to handle explosives and attacks. It is a world away from the classrooms at North Carolina State University that Sgt. Fletcher Sargent of Raleigh is used to.
"When we see what we're going to be doing, it makes us nervous because we understand what we're faced with is going to be dangerous and different every day," he said. "On the other hand, we become more comfortable with it because we are able to practice it in such a realistic setting."
To make the training as realistic as possible, it is important to emphasize the real danger out in the field and teach the soldiers how to handle casualties.
Sensors on their clothing are triggered by a special attachment on the end of each weapon. It works like an advanced version of laser tag. Any soldier killed in action during training are pulled out of the field. The unit practices everything from processing paperwork to notifying the soldiers family.
"It gives you a sense of the urgency and the reality of what we're about to face," said chaplain 1st Lt. James Davidson.
"It is sobering when someone gets hit," Sargent said. "You stop and think and pick up and keep training."
The North Carolina National Guard soldiers take every bit of this training seriously. They know fictitious towns like Narbar Jahr will soon be replaced by real cities like Baghdad.
The 30th Brigade Combat Team could deploy to Iraq by the end of February.