A tour through the simulated battlefields of the U.S. Army National Training Center at Ft. Irwin.
NTC represents @ Fort Irwin’s Painted Rocks.
Many years ago one of the squadrons visiting Ft. Irwin climbed to the top of the rockpile and painted their company colors on one of the rocks. As time went on other squads painted their colors on the rockpile as well and over the years it has grown into the spectacle it is today.
And the winner for best design goes to…
Fort Irwin & the National Training Center (NTC) is 31 miles northeast of Barstow, CA.
We met up at Painted Rocks and were bused into Ft. Irwin.
Our orientation began with Col. Braga briefing us on the economics of how we prepare our soldiers for war, before we headed out to visit one of fifteen artificial cities scattered throughout the base. Btw – Col. Braga is a super cool bad ass.
If the messhall was good enough for Rudy, it’s good enough for me.
It was a pretty decent meal and it was only $4.
Stomachs full, it was time to hop back on the bus and head out to Faux Iraq.
Our leaders prep us with some battle plan tips and courtesy ear plugs for the loud explosions we were about to be exposed to.
Fort Irwin is the only place where the U.S. military can train using all of the systems it will later use in theater. The base’s massive 1,000 square miles of desert is large enough to allow “great maneuverability”; where troops can practice both collection and jamming, including interfering with GPS, providing they warn the FAA in advance.
Time to check out the village…
…where we were greeted by actors trying to sell us plastic fruits and vegetables.
The base employs over 350 civilian role-players, many of whom are of Middle Eastern origin.
Pumping up for battle.
You want pots, we’ve got pots.
It’s halal I promise.
Medina Wasl Mosque.
Injury cards handed out to fallen soldiers and civilians detailing the specific rules each actor must follow during the simulated combat scenes.
You want some of this?
The footprint for the village came from actual satellite imagery of Baghdad and even the step sizes inside buildings are Iraqi, rather than U.S., standard.
Along with the 30,000 feet of airspace above the base, the military also owns the ground beneath Fort Irwin. They have carved out an extensive network of tunnels and caves from which to flush pretend insurgents.
The 120-person strong insurgent troop is drawn from the base’s own Blackhorse Regiment, a division of the U.S. Army that exists solely to provide opposition. These roles are widely envied: they receive specialized training and are held to “reduced grooming standards. If they die during a NTC simulation, they have to shave and go back on detail on the base, so the incentive to evade their American opponents is very strong.
There’s also an entire 2,200-person logistics corps dedicated to rotating units in and out of Fort Irwin and equipping them for training.
With the exception of biological and chemical weapons, every ordnance the US military has is used during NTC simulations. Troops train using their own equipment, which means they have to transport their tanks, helicopters etc. from their home base to California, and back again. Units are deployed to Fort Irwin for 21 days, 14 of which are spent in what Fort Irwin refers to as “The Box” (the 15 simulated towns, tunnels, caves, gunnery ranges and tank battle arenas).
Here comes trouble.
The action is directed from above by a ring of walkie-talkie connected scene coordinators, who also film all of the simulations for later replay in combat analysis.
As the exercise began, loud explosions, smoke, and fairly grisly simulated combat scenes ensued.
Suddenly, a car bomb detonated and chaos ensued.
We had front row seats to all the action.
Soon, it was all over and all the players reassembled to discuss what just occurred.
Even though the exercise was over, the sound of blank rounds being fired continued to be heard. All rounds assigned to a particular exercise must be used during that exercise and cannot be saved for another day.
After the “show” we made our way to the lobby of the International Hotel for cups of water and a debrief with soldiers involved in planning and implementing the simulation.
Looking back after the chaos.
Welcome to Lyndon Marcus International Hotel.
OOP! As in don’t bomb the hotel please, tourists inside.
Hookah recap party with the suicide bomber in red.
The hotel is dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the Blackhorse Regiment.
…and scene! The actors leave their walled village home and prepare to be analyzed.
Next stop, The National Training Center and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment Museum.
Wesley was the man back in the day.
Yes, that really is a real stuffed camel. “Hi Jolly” was the name given to Hadji Ali, a camel driver from Syria. He was imported by the U.S. Army on May 14, 1856, to shepherd a camel train (also imported) across the American Southwest. Hi Jolly passed through this stretch of the Mojave Desert on his travels, which is reason enough to include an exhibit about him at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment Museum.