|Task Force Phoenix Eight is in training. That might not mean anything to you until you hear that the backbone of the task force is the Illinois Army National Guard. About a thousand members of the guard are in training at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, and will spend about ten months in Afghanistan, helping that country set up its own army and police force.
The guardsmen 33rd Infantry Brigade are from across Illinois. One training exercise involves a simulated Afghan village, complete with people role-playing Afghan leaders, citizens, and insurgents. The troops appeal to the village of Mulla leader to let them help with security and other needs. But machine-gun fire rings out, and the soldiers have to protect themselves and the Afghans, then try to further negotiate with the frightened Afghans.
Staff Sergeant Jason DeSmit of Carbondale said the training is as real as training gets. "It definitely makes it more realistic, and definitely puts you in a mindset that you're going over to a country where you can potentially get hurt." Sergeant Richard Ferkel of Rock Island says this intense training will help the soldiers function in Afghanistan on both the cultural and a combat level. "We're getting a lot of equipment that we wouldn't have seen in Illinois, like computer equipment and stuff and I've been hearing that we're getting a new type of vehicle that I've never seen until I got down here."
Corporal Nathan Kull of Princeton served on the casualty evacuation team in this exercise. "Come into the village, pick up our wounded, and get them to the medivac helicopter. It happens. I've actually been one myself, so I know how it needs to happen in a hurry."
For two soldiers, being here is something they've talked about, and planned for, for decades. Specialists Tony Cutrone of Chicago and Adam Koshiol of Darien are uncle and nephew. They're only four years apart in age, so they say they were "playing war" together before they even knew what the guard was. Asked how family feels about both men serving together, Cutrone said, "Both of our mothers are happy that we're here together instead of one of us here alone." Koshoil agrees. "We do treat each other like brothers, and always look out for each other a little extra, take care of each other." "The Army likes the term 'battle buddy' for two guys that are always looking out for each other," Cultrone added. "It's easier for us, because, not to be cheesy, but we've been battle buddies since we were 5 years old."
About a thousand Illinois guard troops are training at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina this week.
(Members of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, who are being deployed to Afghanistan, are training this week at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. The nearly 1,000 Illinois National Guard members will spend 10 months in Afghanistan, with a mission of training and mentoring the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. In this cordon exercise, soldiers approach the leader of a simulated Mulla village, offering help and protection. Machine gun fire stops the talks, and the soldiers have to respond to the snipers and try to continue talks. The troops will be sent to Afghanistan by the holidays. WGIL News Story and Photos by Melissa Hahn, Illinois Radio Network.)