<b> FORT IRWIN, Calif. - </b> As his Soldiers finished setting the final targets, July 7, Sgt. 1st Class Travis Hogan, master gunner for the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, began radioing the M1A1 Abrams tank crews on his firing line to get prepared to fire their main guns.

In a few short days, Soldiers of the 3HBCT, will be leaving the comfort of the Rotational Unit Bivouac Area and traveling out into the Mojave Desert for 14 days of intensive training during their rotation at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif.

Before that happens, Hogan is making sure all the 3HBCT's tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle crews are proficient and able to qualify with their weapon systems. As the range safety officer today, Hogan ensures that all the vehicle crews are ready and they're staying safe.

"This range is one of the requirements NTC has," he says. "Prior to firing any main gun or weapons system, they have to be test fired to ensure they are working properly."
While the training is mandatory, Hogan believes it is an important part of the 3HBCT's training at NTC.

"This training gives crews a chance to work together," he says. "The training area is a lot larger than what we are used to at Fort Benning and more closely resembles the environment in Iraq. It is good for them to get used to being in the desert and firing in the heat."

The heat is a huge factor in Soldier's training. With temperatures hovering around 102 degrees, the tankers are required to wear a water source on them at all times. Safety is emphasized every morning in briefs and reiterated by noncommissioned officers throughout the day. According to Hogan, the few extra seconds it takes to emphasize safety are well worth it.

With the high heat and fast work tempo, training in the Mojave Desert can be difficult, but Soldiers like Staff Sgt. Jason Lapan, master gunner for Company C, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, think that it is necessary.

"It's tiring out here," said Lapan, who is on his third rotation at NTC. "Sure, everyone wants to be home at Fort Benning, but this our last big chance to train before we leave."

Lapan also thinks the training offered by NTC is hard to replicate anywhere else.

"It's a life-like scenario out here," he said. "Once we are out in the box, it is pretty much Iraq. They build the towns up realistically. It really feels like you are there."

Staff Sgt. Jerome Davis, a platoon leader in Company C, 1-15 Inf. Regt., agrees with Lapan's assessment.

"NTC is the best thing happening as far as training," Davis said. "It is a big confidence boost for our guys. We do a lot of training back home at Fort Benning to get ready, but this is the icing on the cake."

Davis believes that the training at NTC can also help his Soldiers who have never deployed, be better prepared for their future deployment.

"Our new guys hear our war stories about Iraq from our veterans," Davis said. "I know it can make them a little nervous when they get out here. There are definitely areas we have to work on and fine tune. The training here helps us identify those areas."

Davis thinks the classes his Soldiers are attending at Fort Irwin will help all of them; combat veteran and new Soldiers alike.

"The classes are giving us the most recent up-to-date information that will help us to be successful over in Iraq," he said. "It is good getting this insight now, rather than when we are over there."

As the time for the 3HBCT to deploy to Iraq draws nearer, Davis is confident that he and his Soldiers will be ready.

"We are all pumped, motivated and ready to rock," he said. "The situation in Iraq has changed, but we are going in there with the attitude that it is 'day one.' No matter what happens, we will be ready to do what we have been trained to do."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16