By U.S. ArmyJune 3, 2011
FORT POLK, La. " A convoy including three HMMWVs and two MRAPs carrying the personal security detachment of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Oklahoma National Guard descended upon Shugart-Gordon province May 21 to build a relationship with the village mayor, Abu Fadi-Matar, and elders.
All was quiet as the HMMWVs got into position and Soldiers stepped out to meet the nationals and take up their positions outside the mayor’s home. A chaplain and interpreter were escorted into the building to speak with the mayor. Not much else could be seen at this point at the Joint Readiness Training Center box tour where Families and veterans gathered to observe the chaplain’s lane, a training exercise specifically for unit chaplains.
The lane challenged the unit to conduct mounted and dismounted operations, react to small arms fire and respond to a suicide bomber. The lane introduces the unit to difficult circumstances so chaplains can practice “traumatic event management.” This allows the chaplain to speak to the Soldiers about the incidents they face so Soldiers don’t have to keep their feelings to themselves.
“The event management allows Soldiers to get their feelings out. It, in turn, helps Soldiers stay focused and get back in the fight by bringing eternal hope to the unit,” said Sgt. 1st Class Rafael Lopez, a trainer/mentor for the chaplain’s lane. “It’s providing Soldiers with resources to get through their feelings with someone rather than doing it alone.”
The TMs are Soldiers who supervise the lane. Multiple TMs share their observations during after action reviews.
“We don’t exactly grade or judge them. We observe and coach them through the process using our own experience,” said Lopez.
Lopez said that the training area wasn’t there four years ago. “Through the hard work of previous TMs and
chaplains, this is possible,” said Lopez.
Watching the conflict unfold was an interesting experience for some Family members and veterans that attended the JRTC (training area) box tour. John Masson, a Vietnam veteran, trained at Fort Polk prior to his deployment. “At one time, they had a makeshift Vietnam here and it wasn’t realistic at all. If we had something like the Soldiers have now, I think more people would have come home alive,” said Masson.
His spouse, Donna, agreed. “They make this so realistic. I spoke with one of the roleplayers and she said she does it because she wants to give the Soldiers the reality of war. When I was watching her, I saw her take the full role of a village woman, adjusting her veil when speaking. It’s like putting the Soldiers there (in theater),” she said.
Clarence Beebe also attended the box tour. “We’re at war every day, but it’s easy to forget. When you see it like this, it’s real,” said Beebe. “They train so much and watching this gives us insight into Soldier preparation.”
The roleplayers reasons for doing what they do echoed Beebe’s statement. Both Martin Almond and Linda Shores, who play Afghan village nationals, said they roleplay for the Soldiers. “I can look into the eyes of the Soldiers who are training and see fear or anger,” said Almond. “Our jobs help the Soldiers prepare for battle and give them the tools to complete their missions and come home safely.”