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Small Base Now Big Asset to Military, Local Communities

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind., Dec. 9, 2004 – For more than 50 years, the only life here was on weekends and for two weeks in the summer. Now, you actually have to keep a watchful eye for marching troops and military convoys at the four-way stop entering the camp.

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The 76th Infantry Brigade, Indiana National Guard, is honored at a departure ceremony at the Veterans' Memorial at Camp Atterbury, Ind., in August. The brigade is currently supporting the training of the Afghan National Army at Camp Phoenix near Kabul, Afghanistan. The crests at the memorial represent the major commands that have trained and deployed from Camp Atterbury since the Joint Maneuver Training Center was founded in 1942. Photo by Sgt. Les Newport, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

For the first time since the Korean War, Camp Atterbury, a National Guard training center first activated June 1942 as a World War II training facility, has become an important military asset. Today, it prepares thousands of troops for deployment in the war on terror, while providing millions of dollars in economic impact to the state.

Army Col. Kenneth D. Newlin, who took command here in October 2002, said over the past two years more than 20,000 Army National Guard and Army Reserve members have been mobilized here for duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

That number is expected to remain steady as the Army presses more Guard and Reserve soldiers into active duty and the Defense Department has called for more troops in Iraq. Roughly half of the forces serving there now are Guard and Reserve members.

Newlin said the camp's gymnasium, which serves as the personnel readiness center, processes an average of 200 soldiers each day. Often, the center operated seven days a week.

A mix of units comes here: medical, engineer, infantry, armor and even training. For example, recently the 98th Division (Institutional Training) out of New York, a unit that consists mostly of drill sergeants, deployed to help the 42nd Infantry Division train the Iraqi army.

The camp's 64 beige concrete barracks house about 4,500 soldiers from more than 39 Guard and Reserve units from across the country, part of the third rotation of troops bound for Iraq. They will spend six to eight weeks in training, learning to avoid convoy ambushes and how to identify unexploded ordnance, two of the most serious dangers they will face in duty.

Newlin said the training here is based on the 40 Warrior Tasks directed by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker. All soldiers, regardless of specialty, must be proficient in the tasks, which include rifle and survival skills.

Besides those tasks, there are individual and collective training events in which soldiers are put in a forward operating base laid out exactly as they would see in Iraq. The idea is for soldiers to "see, smell and train" in the environment they would experience in Iraq, he said.

Iraqi nationals are brought in to be role players and play the role of insurgents to make the scenario more realistic. The FOB is attacked with mortar fire, and vehicle convoys are hit with improvised explosive devices.

During one part of the training, a convoy travels through a village. There, it is stopped, and plastic explosives are set off to simulate an IED. The sound of the blast "literally rocks their world," Newlin said.

"This is not just a little 'pop and drop simulator,'" he said. "The fireball cuts through the air, the black smoke billows out, and the concussion hits you in the face. Talk about shock effect; they know they just got blown up."

The soldiers are trained to fend off such an attack. At the convoy live-fire range, soldiers must engage targets on both sides of the vehicle, using whatever individual or crew-served weapon systems are available, from M-4, M- 249, to Mark 19 and .50-caliber weapons systems.

The training is based on lessons learned from Guard and Reserve units now in Iraq, Newlin said. Some training, however, is refresher courses for tasks learned in basic training, such as first aid and radio communications. Other training, such as rappelling, is designed to build the soldiers' confidence, Newlin explained.

Farewell ceremonies have become an almost weekly ritual here, and Camp Atterbury leaders treat each as a family affair. That's because many of the Guard and Reserve members departing are soldiers they have served with.

"It tough here," Newlin said. "About everyone I've known has deployed somewhere in some fashion or capacity.

"I'm proud to be training and mobilizing them," he continued, "because I truly look at every one of these soldiers as a brother and a friend. And in many cases, most of them are."

Newlin said the 113th Engineer Battalion, 38th Infantry Division, Indiana Army National Guard, is currently training at the camp mobilizing for duty in Iraq. It is the unit where he learned to lead soldiers as a noncommissioned officer, and he commanded until just two years ago.

While the units here await marching orders, soldiers spend off-duty time at the few facilities and activities the camp offers -- a shoppette, a physical fitness center, an "All Ranks" club, a laundry, a barbershop and a movie theater. Newlin said that though Camp Atterbury is small in size aspirations here are big. Since the war on terror began, the installation has become a viable asset to the military.

In February 2002, the Army mobilized Camp Atterbury, the first National Guard mobilization station to be called into service. As a Forces Command Power Support Platform, Camp Atterbury serves as a mobilization and training site for Guard and Reserve troops preparing for the war on terror. That same year, the camp was re-designated by the National Guard Bureau as a Joint Maneuver Training Center, making Camp Atterbury the premier training center in the state.

Newlin said that by becoming a joint training center, Camp Atterbury has fallen in line with the Chief of National Guard Bureau's vision of conducting more joint operations. He said the ability of the camp to "train all components of the services here, and a number of them in joint roles, is part of our ability to adapt and remain viable."

In fact, Guard and Reserve personnel from all services use the camp's training ranges. And Air National Guard units from Indiana and neighboring Kentucky use it to fly sorties overhead and to practice equipment drops from C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. Local state and federal law enforcement authorities use the live-fire ranges to hone their rifle skills.

The Army decision to activate the camp also has meant more military construction dollars for renovations and other quality-of-life improvements. The camp's first commercial franchise, a Subway sandwich shop is set to open next week. It will be the first such franchise on a National Guard base.

Construction has also begun on an $8 million battle simulation center that will enhance training, Newlin said. But what may make Camp Atterbury the NTC of the National Guard is the acquisition of the Muscatatuck State Developmental Center. The sprawling facility, once used to treat people with disabilities, is less than 45 miles east of the camp, and is closing soon. It would cost the state upwards of $40 million to destroy the facility and restore it for agricultural use.

However, Newlin said, Indiana National Guard leaders are hopeful that the ultimate urban warfare-training center could be created there and have put a proposal before the state legislature to do so.

"This would be 10 times the size of any CACTF that's out there," he said. "And it's going to allow us to replicate a more realistic environment for urban training. Instead of having a bunch of cookie-cutter buildings, all made of the same type of materials or facades of materials, you're actually going into a living, breathing city that is self-sustaining."

The residential facility has nearly 1,000 acres of land and some 70 buildings, including a five-story hospital, a minimum-security prison, a school, housing, administrative buildings and its own power station and water treatment plant. A kitchen facility there is capable of serving 4,500 meals three times a day.

Another advantage is the area's large buffer zones, Newlin said -- nearly 1,900 acres to the north and 800 acres to the south of agricultural and forest lands would clear the facility of encroachment. It also has 3,000 feet of underground tunnels, Newlin said, interconnecting the various buildings.

The resurgence of Camp Atterbury and its plans for expansion don't seem to bother the roughly 4,500 residents in the small farming town of Edinburgh where the camp is located. The yellow ribbons on car bumpers and rear windows indicate that many of the people here support the troops.

The local theater gives discounts "all evening, all shows" to those with military ID. And the case of popcorn that sits by Newlin's office door was donated by the local Boy Scouts for the troops, he explained.

Then there is the self-described "Little Old Popcorn Lady." Her business, "Popcorn and More" sells the treat in 100 flavors. Newlin said she ensures that every soldier arriving here gets a bag of the caramel-flavored treat along with a welcome note.

Newlin said he believes the community's appreciation for Camp Atterbury comes in part from the huge economic impact it has on the local community. During fiscal 2003 Camp Atterbury provided more than $78 million to the local community with everything from laundry services to the local seamstress who is kept busy sewing patches and American flags on military uniforms.

"This is truly one of the largest businesses in southern Indiana," Newlin said. The manager of a local pizza-delivery business called to personally thank Newlin, saying that his business increased so much he had to buy a second oven -- which means the pizza delivery traffic here will double. That's something else to watch out for at the camp's main intersection.

(Army Sgt. Les Newport, Camp Atterbury Public Affairs Office, contributed to this report.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSgt. 1st Class Mary Turner of the 826th Personnel Services Detachment, Installation Support Unit, at Camp Atterbury, Ind., helps a soldier outprocess after returning from duty in England. Turner is among 600 soldiers assigned to the ISU, a unit that assists with the mobilization and demobilization, as well as training thousands of Guard and Reserve members at the installation. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSoldiers of the 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry Brigade, Indiana National Guard, react to a chemical attack as part of the serious incident response team training at Camp Atterbury, Ind. The soldiers trained and deployed from the camp in support of Iraqi Freedom I in 2003. They returned from active duty and three months later were designated as Indiana's serious incident response team, a reaction force responsible for supporting homeland defense in time of crisis. Photo by Sgt. Les Newport, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSoldiers of the Army Reserve's 98th Division (Institutional Training), Rochester, N.Y., respond to a mortar attack at Camp Atterbury, Ind. The 98th Division is currently deployed, training the Iraqi army at Camp Anaconda near Baghdad, Iraq. Photo by Sgt. Les Newport, USA  
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