Johnston, Iowa -- Soldiers from the 1034th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB), 734th Regional Support Group, Iowa Army National Guard, conducted a Command Post Exercise (CPX) at the Camp Dodge Joint Maneuver Training Center's (CDJMTC) training area, Nov. 4-6. This exercise is in preparation for their April training rotation at the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, Calif.

Leadership took advantage of the cool autumn weather to prepare Soldiers for their upcoming desert training in California. Using Camp Dodge's training areas, they're mastering a few of the tasks they'll face while at NTC, including setting up and tearing down tents, night vision driving and field equipment familiarization.

"Our main mission is to come out to the field and set up the Deployable Rapid Assembly Shelter (DRASH), and set up a command post," said Capt. Josh Hansen, 1034th CSSB Operations and Training Officer.

Iowa's fall weather is a stark contrast to the heat they'll endure in California. This training gives Soldiers an opportunity to learn new tasks more comfortably in their home environment before being tested by the environment. They also took the opportunity to set up personal shelters, a Mobile Kitchen Trailer and communications uplinks.

A Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and a sea of Universal Improved Combat Shelters (ICUs) were spread across a grassy clearing shortly after their arrival. Setting up and tearing down these tents was a big part of their weekend mission.

Familiarization with the DRASH system is vital for the 1034th. In a real-world mission, being able to move quickly with large amounts of supplies allows them to provide the best service possible for the units they support.

"[DRASH] is what a battalion would have in offensive operations, " Hansen said. "It's the most expedient system to set up and tear down, and we need to do that because our business is sustainment logistics."

The 1034th provides supplies for a brigade support battalion (BSB), and as the BSB moves forward, supply lines get longer. They'll need to set up, tear down and set up their DRASH in another location when their supply line gets too long.

"To shorten the supply line, the 1034th would need to 'jump TOC' to stay caught up with the BSB," said Hansen. "Setting these up has to become second nature, like muscle memory, so it becomes a quicker and more efficient process."

The 1034th used this training opportunity to conduct a variety of other standard field training tasks, as well.

"We integrated night vision driver training, which is absolutely critical when you go into a combat training center like NTC," Hansen said. "We're also trying to do our tactical Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) validation."

Each Army unit has their own SOP providing guidance on how to perform their jobs efficiently. Having an SOP helps units operate consistently.

"Along with that, we conducted troop procedures that included an operations brief, which referenced maps for reconnaissance," Hansen said. "We also conducted a Rehearsal of Concepts (ROC) drill to make sure everyone knows what the Common Operating Picture is."

"The ROC went over how to get out to the field, how to get back, and then ended with back-briefs," said Hansen. "It's a complex process just to get out there, but this is how they would execute a real mission, particularly at NTC."

NTC is located in California's Mojave Desert. The combination of sand, mountains, intensely hot weather and combat-based training posts unique challenges for Iowa Soldiers. While they'll know what to expect from setting up their equipment during the CPX, the NTC environment will add yet another layer of complications.

Capt. Ives Chapman, an Observer Controller-Trainer with the 1st Army, 1st Battalion, 337th Regiment, 181st Infantry Brigade, from Fort McCoy, Wis., visited the unit at CDJMTC to help 1034th Soldiers know what they'll encounter in the desert.

"The environment is going to be new to a lot of people," Chapman said. "Many have never been to a desert before. That time of year is going to be hot. They aren't going to be used to the dust and mountains."

The true test, he said, will come when they turn up the heat in California.

"They'll be living in tents, trying to dig into the rock-hard ground," Chapman said, "and vehicle maintenance requires a lot more, because hot temperatures and dust take a toll on your equipment," said Chapman. "It's a hostile environment, and there will be constant movement."

However, this unwelcoming terrain will help prepare Soldiers for overseas deployments, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations.

"It's tailored after a lot of the terrain features you see in the Middle East," Hansen said. "It's about as close to a deployment there as you can get."