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Fort Bragg Soldiers Mark Time Training As They Await War Duty

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FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Under sunny Southern skies half a worldaway from the battlefields of Iraq, soldiers concentrated on theirtraining Monday - preparing themselves physically for a war theysay they are already mentally ready to fight.

A crowd of paratroopers worked through the final stages oftraining for jumpmaster certification on one part of this sprawlingArmy post, while military police on another field hardenedthemselves with exposure to noxious gas.

The war can be fought at home as well as abroad, said Sgt. 1stClass Dale Warner, 39, a 20-year Army veteran who was teaching thejumpmaster candidates.

"We train to be there but we also have a mission that says thisstill has to go on," he said, as the trainees stood in a circle onthe sawdust-covered floor of an open-sided shelter, examining eachother's gear.

Warner and Sgt. 1st Class David Hankins, 36, were teaching 94soldiers who each hoped to become a certified jumpmaster - theparatrooper in charge of a group of parachutists from the time theyenter an aircraft until they exit.

The course has a 60 percent graduation rate, Warner said.

Knowing they could join the battle, many paratroopers say the images inspire them to train even harder.

"My heart goes out to my fellow soldiers. It could be me. It might be me. We are with them in heart," Sfc. Tim Fountain said.

In Monday's exercise, one soldier had a specified amount of timeto check the parachute rig worn by another.

The full parachute equipment - not including weapons andpersonal effects - weighs 44 pounds. The candidates were trainingwith lighter, partial gear rigged with deficiencies that the"inspectors" were required to find, such as an exposed canopy ona reserve chute or something as simple as a weapon attachedupside-down.

Hankins, from Raeford, has spent two months in Afghanistan sincethe Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and was in Saudi Arabia for sevenmonths during the Persian Gulf war. His wife, Quintina, herself anArmy sergeant, just returned from a year's duty in Korea.

Hankins said he wasn't concerned that he hasn't, as yet, beencalled to action in this war against Iraq.

"Everyone has their part and purpose in a war campaign. ...Your part will come whether at the start or the end," he said."All you can do is just be ready."

Jumpmaster candidate Maj. Luke Leonard was more anxious to getto the Middle East. His unit, the 27th Engineering Battalion,already has some members in Afghanistan and Kuwait.

In the meantime, when he's at home, the television is alwaystuned to the news and the phone constantly rings with calls fromfriends and family who want to know when he's shipping out.

Leonard said he was "absolutely" ready to go to Iraq.

"Everybody wishes they were there. Most of us have buddies overthere," he said.

Some instructors said it is vital that soldiers stay grounded during times of war. Staff Sgt. Duane Bowen said it helps to talk with his father, who was wounded in Vietnam.

"With him being in Vietnam, they went through a lot more than we will go through," Bowen said.

Fellow trainee Capt. Landon Raby, 29, noted that it can be hardto leave home.

"We like being with our families," he said. "But you stillhave that itch to do what you trained to do."

Across the base, members of the 65th Military Police Companywent through chemical training, exposing themselves to CS gas -similar to pepper spray - inside a small building.

The training "gives you confidence in your equipment," saidSgt. Donald Tabb of New York City. But it does little to quell theanxiousness of troops waiting for the call to join their comradesoverseas.

"You just want to be there, right by their side, to helpthem," Tabb said.

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