Spc. Darien Ford of Macon didn’t join the Georgia Army National Guard to be an infantryman. After all, he’s a signal support system specialist in a unit that provides satellite and microwave communications along with computer services and networking.
But Wednesday afternoon, Ford was trudging along a sandy trail at Fort Stewart practicing dismounted patrol tactics with his fellow signal company members.
His commander, Capt. Corey King of Alpharetta, calls Ford and his cohorts “geeks with guns.”
In another corner of the vast installation, Spc. Nefertiti Stokes of Atlanta, an information technician, was inserting an IV needle into the reluctant arm of a fellow soldier, part of a weeklong lifesaver training class.
Both of them are assigned to the 48th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, part of a 2,750-person Georgia Guard contingent that will deploy to Afghanistan beginning this month, continuing through the early part of the summer.
Before they depart, every 48th Brigade member regardless of rank or specialty — from cook to combat engineer — must be proficient in 32 warrior tasks and 12 battle drills.
“Every Guard member must pass the same tasks and drills before they go into combat,” said Col. Lee Durham, the 48th Brigade commander. “And that’s pages of tasks because each has 15 to 20 subtasks. Plus, they have to qualify on their individual weapon and receive cultural and language training.
“The idea is to make everyone a combat arms thinker no matter what his (military occupation specialty) might be.”
The training buildup began last summer at Fort McCoy, Wis., with a focus on countering improvised explosive devices, combat convoy tactics, weapons qualifications and demolition drills.
Most 48th members were activated in January or early February. That was followed by three weeks at Fort Polk, La., and the Joint Readiness Training Center.
“It’s one of two in the Army,” explained Lt. Col. Thomas Bright, commander of the 48th Brigade Special Troops Battalion. “It has massive resources that give you as much realism as possible. You roll through simulated Afghan villages complete with goats and chickens. They actually have people from Afghanistan to help you learn the culture and language.”
The agenda also included convoy training, explosive device recognition, combat patrols, weapons qualification and street-level engagements. Soldiers who have just returned from the combat zone also were there to advise and assist.
“You feel jerked through a knothole,” Bright said. “But they have their stuff together and they really reinforce all of our training — helping our people make quick decisions. That’s important because a lot of times you don’t have time to think about” what needs to be done before you have to do it.
“I’m an engineer, but if I can’t survive on the battlefield, my engineering skills won’t do me any good.”
The 48th has also had soldiers training at Fort Benning, Fort Gordon and Camp Shelby, Miss. The Fort Stewart phase — a grueling, Monday through Friday focus on warrior tasks, battle drills, armored vehicle driver training and lifesaver techniques — will wrap up April 20.
“The lifesaver training is more than basic first aid,” Bright said. “It’s really ‘combat medic lite.’ I wanted to get as many people as I could in the class because I want my soldiers surrounded by people with this kind of training.”
Stokes said the instructors have been great.
“They’ve given us a lot of hands-on chances. Everybody has to be stuck,” she said with a laugh. “You stick someone and someone sticks you. You see the expressions on the faces of these so-called manly men who are squeamish about blood and needles. But it’s great. A small thing like this can save a life in battle.”
This will be the first deployment for the single, 30-month Guard veteran, but she believes she’s ready.
“I’m a little anxious,” she said above the good-natured noise of the classroom. “I’m also curious and a little scared. But I feel the training has been proficient.”
1st Lt. Paul Roman was also taking the lifesaver course, but for an additional reason. Roman is a Southern Baptist chaplain, and part of his ministry will be with combat medics. He sees the training as a door opener.
“I can sit at the table with them and be helpful while I’m ministering,” said the Raleigh, N.C., pastor. “This gives me insight into what they go through. They may see some horrific stuff, and I hope I can be helpful with that.”
This is also the first deployment for Ford. His twin brother, Darius, is in the same company.
“My mother’s proud of me and my brother,” the Central High School graduate said. “A lot of Macon youths are not doing anything, but I’m glad to be part of something bigger than myself. I’m geared up, ready, excited, looking forward to going over there.”
The Fort Stewart training day begins at 5:30 a.m. and extends well into the evening. The early-morning drill features strength training and a three-mile run, complete with 35-pound rucksacks.
“We place a lot of emphasis on cardio training,” Bright pointed out, “because we’ll be in Kabul at 6,000 feet above sea level.”
At each of the training sites, Fort Stewart and elsewhere, soldiers have the weekends off. Command Sgt. Maj. Jackie Faulkner, a 34-year veteran of the Guard, said the Army’s goal is to have soldiers home with their families on the weekend.
“They didn’t want them to spend six months at their mobility station before they deploy,” he said.
The 48th Brigade’s tasking calls for staffing four regional commands in Afghanistan — in the north, central and eastern sectors of the country and also in the capital city of Kabul.
“We are tasked with five separate mobilizations,” Durham said.
“There will be three battalion task forces, a Phoenix headquarters unit that includes both a fourth battalion task force and a logistics task force. A fifth mobilization is two provisional reconstruction platoons. Their mission is security for reconstruction teams made up of individuals from a number of government agencies.”
The 48th’s primary mission is to train and mentor the Afghan army and police. The 48th Brigade Special Troops Battalion is a support element, providing intelligence, communications, combat engineering and other specialties.
“Other brigades will be actively looking for the bad guys,” Bright said. “The 48th also will be looking for the bad guys but in different ways. We’ll be training Afghans through four different levels. We’ll take them from basic, core training until they’re ready to be cut loose. After all, it’s their country, their fight.”
The 48th’s final training session will come at Camp Atterbury, Ind., beginning April 24. It will offer a full regimen of realism, including convoy live fire and reflexive fire.
“Reflexive fire is rapid reaction fire,” Bright said. “It’s firing while moving, muzzle control, learning to be fast and accurate. More shootin’ is good because you get more comfortable with your weapon. When we get to the theater, we hope everything is second nature.”
Durham said he has every confidence in his people and the training they’ve received.
“Every deploying soldier will have a minimum of 90 days and a maximum of 150 days of training,” he pointed out. “And that’s just specialized training for this mission. No soldier is going over there untrained — whether he’s a cook or an infantryman.”
To contact Gene Rector, call 923-3109, extension 239.