The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


June 17, 2013

Name: Skip Rohde
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Asheville, NC
Milblog: Ramblings From A Painter
Email: skip@skiprohde

I'm at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in southeast Indiana. I'm here for a week to help provide training to the next group of State Department and USAID people heading downrange to Afghanistan. This is the same training that I went through 18 months ago, just before deploying, and it is really cool to be able to give back my experiences (or pay them forward?) to those who are on watch next.

Muscatatuck (pronounced mus-CAT-a-tuck) is an interesting place. It was originally built in the 1920s "a home for the feeble-minded" (their words, not ours). It consists of a lot of old yellow brick buildings arranged in a campus-like settings. Some were dorms, others were offices, classes, work areas, a cafeteria, a hospital, and so on. In the 70s, the hospital was closed down and eventually it was turned over to the National Guard and revamped into a training center. Now it is a national asset. It provides realistic training environments to all kinds of classes. Federal civilians (like myself) go through training for Afghanistan. SEALS and other elite military forces practice operating in an urban environment.  FEMA, various local agencies, and NGOs learn about disaster response. There's a permanent school for troubled teens here.

This looks like a ruined parking garage. It's not, really. It's specially built to give students the experience of operating in a devastated area. SEALS, for example, might practice combat operations, or emergency workers can practice getting injured people out of a collapsing structure. This "garage" has floors that can go up and down to simulate building collapse. The first time I saw it, though, it looked exactly like parking garages I saw in Sarajevo after the war.

This is a specially-built area to provide training for emergency workers in flood rescue.  All those flooded houses were deliberately built to look like flooded houses.

Here's one of the old 1920s-vintage buildings, along with a section that looks like a street in some third-world country. It looks like it's in bad shape, right? Actually, the buildings are all structurally strong. Many of the old buildings are desolate-looking inside, with crumbling concrete steps, broken furniture, and dirt and dust everywhere. But it provides a pretty realistic introduction for what Afghan hands will find downrange. The debris field?  It was specially created, along with demolished cars all over the place.

My job this week is to run some of the training scenarios for the students. They're going to be put into situations where they have to meet with Afghan officials, talk with private citizens, respond to requests for assistance, have TV cameras shoved in their faces, and get "attacked."  All these are realistic situations. The role-players are all Afghan citizens who now live in the United States. They're a great bunch of people. Many are very educated and had very responsible roles in Afghanistan. Like me, they really want to help prepare these students for life in Kabul or wherever they're going. Most of the role-players have been doing this for a long time and are very experienced at the different scenarios.

The other trainers are a great bunch as well. All have been downrange for anywhere from one to four years. There are ex-military, ex-cops, a lawyer, a European, former USAID and State Department workers, a former Assistant Secretary in three agencies, graybeards, and young folk. What really distinguishes them is that all are mission-focused. They're committed to providing the best and most effective training possible. Clock-watching and nit-picking is not a part of their vocabulary. Whatever it takes, it will get done, without theatrics and usually without asking.

So that's my business this week. It's been a lot of fun since I arrived here Friday. The rest of this week looks like it'll be even more fun. Our first real scenario is in a couple of hours. Time to get to work!


Wow! As a nurse educator, years ago I brought my nursing students to visit Muscatatuck when it still was a lodging for the "feeble minded." Also as an administrator of a college of nursing, I facilitated the development of a quality simulation center. I am also a veteran of the Vietnam war. I am impressed with the facility you describe. Surely the soldiers you train there will benefit from these experiences.

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