FORT IRWIN, Calif.--With the United States still fighting in Afghanistan, it's certain that many more Army units will be deployed to the middle east before the war draws to a close. And what is also certain is that most, if not all, of those units will make a trip to this giant base in the Mojave desert first.
This is the Army's National Training Center, where since 1981 the service has helped its soldiers get ready for battles they might have to fight in the future. Until 2004, the training was focused on Cold War-era adversaries, but in the wake of 9/11, the Army re-engineered Fort Irwin's curriculum to prepare soldiers for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially because the base's terrain -- harsh desert and even harsher mountains -- has a lot in common with what soldiers might encounter in the Middle East.
Almost every month, a new brigade of around 6,000 soldiers rolls into the base, about 30 miles northeast of Barstow, Calif., for three weeks of training. The first two take place in mock villages against members of the Army's 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, a unit posted permanently to Fort Irwin that is tasked with playing the enemy. Those battles involve blanks, but a careful assessment of who is "killed" or "injured," and how the visiting unit does.
The last week involves heading way down range into the seemingly endless desert for live-fire target practice.
In this Army photo, taken last month, an "insurgent" fires a rocket-propelled grenade at members of the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, from Fort Lewis, Wash., who have come to Ft. Irwin for their training.
As part of Road Trip 2012, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman stopped in on Fort Irwin this week to find out how the Army trains the brigades it will soon be sending into the combat zone.
To make the scenario training more realistic, the Army hires locals to play the role of Aghan villagers. When reacting to attacks, the soldiers must contend with locals who are themselves trying to deal with the chaos of battle suddenly breaking out in their village. Part of what determines whether the soldiers are successful in their training is how they handle the "locals."
Army soldiers prepare to round a corner in the middle of a mock battle taking place during their three weeks at Fort Irwin. As preparation for going to war in Afghanistan, the soldiers must contend with two weeks of such battles, some of which follow a script every unit must play out, and some of which are unique.
A common scenario finds the Army soldiers contending with Afghan insurgents attacking them as they try to rescue an injured comrade. Their task is to restore order, and that can involve apprehending their attackers instead of "killing" them.
Just outside the village of Ertebat Shar is this forward operating base, which is used in the second week of training. Soldiers will be based out of the FOB, and will find villagers coming to them to try to solve certain issues. How they respond to those requests will likely determine if they get help from locals when contending with insurgent attacks that inevitably come.
The training at Fort Irwin begins with having to rescue fellow soldiers who have been "injured" in an IED attack on an Army vehicle. Though taken on a day when there is no training, "blood" stains remain on the ground where the explosion takes place.