FORT BENNING, Ga. - As they take the next step in their preparation for their scheduled deployment at the end of the year, the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, began preparations to move over 3,500 Soldiers, 1,100 vehicles and 250 storage containers across the country to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif.

The brigade, which will spend a month in California, has been planning this deployment to the National Training Center for over a year. NTC is the cumulative training event before the brigade deploys in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"Deployment is the first mission-essential task we must master in order to get Soldiers and equipment to the right place at the right time," said Col. Pete Jones, 3rd HBCTcommander.

Leaders at all levels in the brigade have worked to ensure the trip will happen smoothly. Brigade and battalion quartermasters scheduled civilian contractors, trains and aircrafts to carry Soldiers and equipment to Fort Irwin. Company leaders and first sergeants checked to make sure all containers were properly packed and ready to move. Platoon sergeants and section leaders have been checking their Soldiers to ensure they will have all the proper equipment they will need in the Mojave Desert.

"I've heard it will be hot," said Pvt. Travis McClendon, an infantryman in Company A, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment. "I feel we have been trained, but this will be another part of that. Whatever happens, we will be ready."

Staff Sgt. James Barboa, a platoon sergeant in Troop B, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, is just one of the leaders who went through his Soldier's packing list and ensured they would have all the items they would need.

"As leaders, we just try to make sure everyone is squared away," he said. "It's a lot easier to pick up something here than to scramble for it out there."

Another key element in the preparation for deployment is safety. This has been especially true at the railhead outside of Kelley Hill, where all of the brigade's 1,100 vehicles have been loaded onto trains.

The Soldiers of 2/69 AR, who are in charge of the loading, performed their duties clad in reflective vests, with water sources strapped to their backs and wearing eye protection.

"We haven't had one accident," said Pvt. Chad Sheard, a scout in Headquarters Company, 2/69 AR. "We are moving Humvees and track vehicles on to rail cars, so we have been careful. If you have an accident, someone could get crushed."

To guarantee that the Soldiers working at the railhead were safe, leaders like Staff Sgt. Michael Holland, a scout in HHC, 2/69 AR, placed experienced noncommissioned officers throughout the railhead to monitor the Soldiers and address any issues before they became serious.

"We have safety briefings every morning. We've gone through rehearsals, and we rotate our drivers and ground guides to ensure they aren't all out in the heat for eight hours," he said. "It is something we take seriously."

That is music to the ears of leaders like Jones.

"While training is critical to mission preparation for Iraq, safety and risk mitigation must be at the forefront of every Soldier and leader," he said. "No training event is worth the loss of a Soldier."