SHOSHONG, The Republic of Botswana (Aug. 15, 2012) -- The ground shook as satchel and improvised Bangalore charges packed with C-4 explosives detonated, to clear the way for 1st Battalion, 114th Infantry Regiment, New Jersey Army National Guard, Aug. 11, in The Republic of Botswana.
Unrelenting mortar and small-arms fire filled the air with a deafening orchestra of explosions, as rounds impacted the dry, African desert. While support-for-fire rounds landed, infantrymen of Company A rushed the simulated battlefield through dust and debris in tactical bounding movements.
The high-tempo assault and support-for-fire mission was part of Southern Accord 2012, a large combined, joint exercise designed to enhance military capabilities and interoperability between U.S. military forces and the Botswana Defense Force, or BDF.
"They're just like us," said Pvt. Rusty Rogers from Point Pleasant, N.J., and infantryman with Company A, 1-114th. "Most of the BDF perform the same jobs we do, just a little bit differently, which has made it fun for us to learn from one another."
Once the dust settled, flames still smoldered from detonated ordnance and expended ammunition, creating a mirage-like haze in the air as U.S. Soldiers advanced toward their objective to eliminate their target.
"This is my first time overseas and my first time firing rounds with my new team," said Camden, N.J., native, Pfc. Brandon Wood with Company C, 1-114th. "It's a whole new experience, far different than what I expected. Learning a new culture and being around my team for the first time has given me that deployment mindset in an atmosphere close to the real thing."
Wood's favorite part about being a mortarman is firing rounds and carrying the heavy gear. He said it is hard work, but it feels like an accomplishment at the end of the day. He also loves the sound of the rounds making contact.
"There is nothing like hearing the sound of a mortar," said Wood. "It's like magic."
Once the assault team reached the ridge where Company C provided supporting fire, the teams switched, which allowed the BDF a chance to run the lanes. Three separate assaults and support-for-fire missions were completed in addition to the BDF live-fire missions.
"This has been a great opportunity to learn from one another," said Voorhees, N.J., native, Pvt. John Donatucci of Company C, 1-114th. "To see how the BDF run their missions and teach them how we run ours has provided great training. It's also a unique experience to train with a foreign military force."