About 4,000 Iowa National Guard soldiers were training at Camp Ripley in Minnesota at the end of June, preparing for the Guard’s upcoming mission in Afghanistan.
The military invited reporters, including Radio Iowa’s Dar Danielson, to fly to Camp Ripley via military helicopter and see the training first hand. Here are photos and a description of the flight by Dar Danielson.
The Iowa National Guard began flying the Chinooks in 1995. According to the Iowa Guard, they have flown flood support missions in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and North Dakota. They have also provided humanitarian support in Guyana, Honduras and Paraguay South America. The unit was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from February 2003 to July of 2004. This mission flew several reporters and photographers to Minnesota to observe the Iowa National Guard training at Camp Ripley in Minnesota.
We were supposed to take off on Father’s Day Sunday June 20th. The flight was canceled by storms and moved to Monday morning at 7:30. It was moved back three more times on Monday by weather delays and the CH-47D Chinook finally landed at Camp Dodge around 1:30. We were airborne and on the way to Council Bluffs by 1:45.
Riding in the Chinook is a little like riding in the back of a pickup truck, as the back gate of the massive helicopter stayed open for the entire trip and gave a beautiful view as we flew across the Iowa countryside. We traveled at a speed of around 140 miles an hour, but the ride was smooth and it didn’t seem like we were moving that fast. A cool breeze blew through the front windows and out the back. The roar of the engines made earplugs a requirement for all passengers, and you had to lean right up to the ear of the person next to you to speak. This limted the conversation among fellow journalists to hand gestures for most of the flight.
Looking out the window from our cruising altitude of 2,000 feet was like looking at a massive Google map of the state. For some towns the writing on the water tower was large enough to read as we flew by, but on others it was too small, and unlike the Google map, there was no mouse to click on and zoom in.
The most striking thing from the air after taking off from Camp Dodge was the large amount of standing water in the farm fields, and the swollen streams and waterways. The wet fields were evident all the way to Councils Bluffs and on through Sioux City and western Iowa up through Minnesota.
The stop in Council Bluffs was quick and we picked up fellow journalists and then took off for Sioux City. We landed at the Sioux Gateway airport, flying in by the refueling tanker planes of the 185th Iowa National Guard. All of the landings were smooth, and several of my colleagues commented how there wasn’t the bump you sometimes get when you land in a commercial airliner.
We were able to get off the helicopter for a bathroom break (there are no on board facilities) and refueling of the Chinook. We picked up a few more reporters to bring our total to 21.
There was a noticeable change was we moved into Minnesota, as there were more lakes, more cattle in the fields and not as many row crops. It also cooled off the farther north we flew. As we neared Camp Ripley north of Minneapolis, Sergeant Sorenson pointed out the Mississippi River and the fact it looks a lot different here than it does in Davenport, the home base of the Chinook. We landed at the Camp Ripley airfield around 6:30.
Here are several of the stories Dar Danielson wrote on the Iowa National Guard’s training.
Read and hear about the soldiers who’ll be deploying.
…Not only are the 2,800 soldiers who’ll be on the ground in Afghanistan involved in this training, but support units of the guard are also in Minnesota for a full-scale summer exercise involving a total of 4000 Iowa National Guard soldiers.
The deployment includes a mix of experienced soldiers and newcomers…
Read and hear about the special effects making training more realistic.
…Hollywood-style special effects are used to make things as realistic as possible. In one typical exercise a truck pulls up to the M-P’s roadblock — and refuses to stop when a shot is fired at it, and then it explodes…
Read and hear about the Afghan actors helping in the training.
…Soldiers from Davenport begin their exercise where they seek out insurgents with a strategy session. They go over the village set up that is laid out in a rough map drawn in the sand.
A squad leader tells them where to position their gunners to secure the village. They then mount their vehicles and pull into a mock Afghan village that includes former Afghan citizens who are acting out roles to give the soldiers an idea of what they might face...
Read and hear more about FOBs.
…They are called “FOBs” by the guard soldiers, which stands for “forward operating base.” You weave through a maze of concrete barriers and barbed wire on the way in that is designed to stop any vehicle attacks…