It's almost 5 a.m. on Dec. 11.

Sgt. 1st Class Gabriel Lopez just got to work.

The first thing he does is check the weather forecast online. The chance of rain is 100 percent and thunderstorms are anticipated.

Lopez is a drill sergeant with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment and his Soldiers are supposed to spend the day on the range.

"The rain won't stop us," he says, "but if there's lightning, we'll have to wait it out in the shelter."
His Soldiers are in the "blue phase" of Basic Combat Training, during which they apply what they have learned so far in more complex exercises.

"They're more disciplined now," Lopez explains. "They know a lot more."

Not everyone in Lopez' platoon has made it this far. Throughout the last four weeks, six Soldiers were sent home, some for medical reasons and others for failure to adapt to the rigors of Army life. The ones who are still here board the buses to Omaha Beach, a live-fire range where they will practice "buddy team movement."

The task is for two Soldiers to navigate the 220-yard course together. While one Soldier advances from one barricade to the next, his or her battle buddy engages the enemy, represented by pop-up targets. At the end of the course, the Soldiers throw a practice grenade before retreating.

"It teaches them to move in close to the enemy." Lopez says, explaining that the Soldiers have practiced the exercise twice before during dry runs.

Despite the gloomy weather forecast, the company gets the training done before thunderstorms move into the area. Each buddy team goes through the course once. Two drill sergeants run the course with the Soldiers -- an exhausting undertaking under normal circumstances, but even harder when running through the mud.

"My legs are tired now," says Lopez three hours later, after all of his buddy teams have completed the exercise.

Lopez will have time to recuperate soon. The Soldiers will be gone for the holidays and will resume training in January -- without their senior drill sergeant. He will attend the seven-week Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Course at Fort Benning, Ga., in January.

"I'll be working nine-to-five and I'll be able to run at my own pace," Lopez says, looking forward to the break.

The downside of being gone is that Lopez will not be present for his Soldiers' graduation Jan. 23, the event that sums up the success of his mission.

"You see in the Soldiers that they accomplished so much," he says.