By Representative Dean Fisher

On Saturday, Sept. 7,  my colleagues and I had the chance to spend a day at Camp Dodge, our Iowa Army National Guard base in Johnston. This was my first visit to Camp Dodge. I was overwhelmed with the size and scope of this facility. It covers 4,500 acres and has 281 buildings. Camp Dodge is the 4th busiest training site of the 55 training sites in the National Guard nationwide.

We started our day with presentations by General Orr, the senior commander, and members of his staff. We were brought up to date on key aspects of Camp Dodge, the state’s National Guard, its mission, initiatives and status of the infrastructure and future construction plans.

After lunch, we were taken on a tour of the base to observe our soldiers in action.  First we observed a portion of an annual statewide competition called the “Sidewinder Challenge.” Six elite teams, consisting of six soldiers, were selected to participate in this grueling 16 hour long competition. The day was broken up into two hour blocks, with each block consisting of a specific task. The portion we observed was one team running the obstacle course. The course consisted of four men carrying two of their teammates on a stretcher across several obstacles; a seven foot high slanted wall, a barbed wire array to crawl under, a 4 foot vertical wall with the stretcher loaded, a wall of 8 feet without the stretcher loaded, then carrying the stretchers one hundred yards to a Humvee and pushing the Humvee a hundred yards, and finally, returning to carry the stretchers loaded. The team that won this event completed the task in 6½ minutes. This course was designed to boost the heart rate of the soldiers for a simulated combat rifle fire exercise immediately following. The temperature that Saturday was in the 90’s, and the team we observed performed superbly in spite of the heat and stress. Other tasks that day included a 6 kilometer “ruck run” with a fully loaded pack as well as technically oriented tasks.

We were then taken to an area of Camp Dodge that is set up to simulate a small town for training in an urban setting. Camp Dodge was hosting a joint training exercise that day between the National Guard and the State Police. The scenario being run was that of a company located located in a small town that manufactures a vaccine for a virus that had spread worldwide.  The town was being besieged by protesters attempting to access the vaccine, and by others that were protesting the vaccine’s use. National Guard troops and State Police were holding back the protesters and guarding the other entrances to the company’s buildings while other troops were playing the role of protesters attempting to break through the ranks of soldiers blocking the road. We were shown the command center from which the exercise was being managed, and we watched portions of the scenario being played out. Exercises of this nature are critical to the troops’ readiness for when real disasters strike.

We ended the day with a guided tour of the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum. The museum highlights each war that Iowans have fought in from our days as a territory to the present with realistic dioramas and actual artifacts from those wars. It is a must-see for every Iowan.

I learned a great deal about our Iowa Army National Guard that day, including a first-hand look at the rigorous training our soldiers experience. Iowans owe these brave and dedicated men and women their full support.