An inside look at National guard training at Fort Indiantown Gap

Yesterday John Harlow and I met with Staff Sergeant Brad Mingle to embark on our next adventure with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
A little while ago, John and I visited the Tyrone Armory so that Ssgt. Mingle could walk me through full MOPP gear, the protection soldiers need to wear in case of a chemical attack. Ssgt. Mingle allowed me to wear the camouflage clothes, the gas mask, and the heavy chemical suits, while John got to sit back, relax and take the pictures.
This time, I didn’t have to dress up in a chemical suit, but there were some surprises along the way.
In the morning, Ssgt. Mingle, John and I met three other reporters from the Lewistown Sentinal and the Centre Daily Times at the State College Airport.
At approximately 10 a.m., our ride to Fort Indiantown Gap came flying into the airport, a Huey helicopter.
The crew chief Specialist Frank Palfrey gave us a safety briefing before we boarded the helicopter. He also gave me and one other girl garbage bags in case we would get sick on the helicopter ride to Fort Indiantown Gap.
We boarded the Huey, and Spec. Palfrey left the doors open for our flight.
What an experience! This was my first helicopter ride, and a helicopter is much different from an airplane. A helicopter can maneuver in many different ways, and it can hover right over the ground.
With the doors being open, we could see the beautiful Pennsylvania mountains and farm lands. Ssgt. Mingle said the helicopter fluctuated from a height of 650 feet to 1,500 feet on our trips to and from Indiantown Gap.
We reached Fort Indiantown Gap, and nobody got sick. In fact, everybody enjoyed the ride. We landed and met the battalion commander Major Frank Sajer, and he was personally going to show us around.
Maj. Sajer gave us a brief introduction of himself and of the facilities of Fort Indiantown Gap. He said the second battalion/112th division infantry is the soldiers that we would be seeing, and he also explained the purpose of the National Guard is for the safety of the people. He told us that we would be seeing many different areas of Fort Indiantown Gap.
We started our tour of the area. To get from place to place, we were driven around in humvees, which made me very happy and excited because I’ve always wanted to drive around in a humvee.
Our driver of the humvee was Specialist Robert Swan of Richfield. He will be at Fort Indiantown Gap for two weeks, and then he will train one weekend a month at the Lewistown Armory.
We rode through the woods until we reached a place where a camp was set up with camouflage tents and trucks covered with camouflage, among many other materials that were covered in camouflage.
The first area Maj. Sajer explained to us was about an MKT, or mobile kitchen. The mobile kitchen can be flown or driven anywhere on the field to provide food for the soldiers. The cooks provide two meals a day for the soldiers, breakfast and an evening meal. For lunch, soldiers eat an MRE, or meal ready to eat that is in a sealed, compact package that can be taken anywhere.
The cooks begin preparing the meals at night so it does not get too hot in the kitchen area. The food is cooked at the kitchen, and then it is shipped to the different areas of Fort Indiantown Gap for the soldiers to eat.
After we got to observe the kitchen, we jumped back into the humvees and rode to the TOC, or tactical operations center.
Maj. Sajer explained that this area is a mixture of medics, maintenance, fuel, water, repairs, and others supplies that a battalion needs. It is a vital area to the soldiers, and therefore, it is highly camouflaged, and great measures are taken to protect its location in case of a battle situation.
At the tactical operations center, we met Chief Warrent Officer Cloyd Pines of Lewistown, who oversees the mechanics and repairs. In the National Guard, the soldiers must check vehicles, helicopters and other equipment daily to make sure everything is working properly.
The next area we visited was the batallion aid station. This area is equipped with medics and is a 24 hour continuing care unit in case of emergency for soldiers in the field. For training purposes, the medics are many times used for preventative medicine, like ticks or twisted ankles, but in a battle situation, medics are one of the most important jobs in the military.
At the tactical operations center, we also visited the communications center, which consisted of the radio transmitters. In this area, the radio provides communications for the vehicles of the battalion. Also, there is a map of the Fort Indiantown Gap training center. The purpose of the soldiers working there is to maintain communications with all 276 men in the battalion.
This area is where we were all able to take a break and eat our lunch for the day, which was an MRE, meal ready to eat. My meal consisted of cheese tortellini, pound cake, crackers, cheese and charms.
The cheese tortellini comes in a little bag, and to heat it up, there is another bag that it is placed into. Between the two bags, a little bit of water is placed between them, causing a chemical reaction of heat. This heat makes the food hot.
After lunch, we jumped into the humvee and drove to the shooting range. This is where I had the most fun. We watched the soldiers shoot M-203 grenade launchers at two targets, one target that looked like a window and one that was further out in the field that was a tank.
After we watched them, they asked if anyone wanted to shoot, and I said that I would. They gave me a safety briefing on how to load the weapon and how not to point it at anybody. I also had to wear a helmet.
Then, I went up to where there was a wooden rest for the gun, but I was too short to use it, so I had to hold the gun and shoot it. I kept aiming it too low at the ground, and the soldiers who were helping me kept saying to aim it higher, or I wasn’t going to hit anything.
I couldn’t even see through the peep sight to line anything up, so I just aimed where they told me and pulled the trigger. The gun had a kick to it and made me step back a little. I think I got to shoot it three times, but I can’t remember because I was so excited. Each time I didn’t hit anything; I do remember that.
After the shooting range, we had one more stop. We got to see a Browning M-2 50 caliber machine gun mounted to the top of an armored personnel carrier being fired at a mock train out in a field. This type of gun is efficient against aircraft, vehicles and personnel and can be mounted to tanks, humvees and even Navy ships.
Our trip was over, and we were driven back to the hangar where our Huey helicopter was waiting for us. The day was a memorable experience that I won’t soon forget. The soldiers at Fort Indiantown Gap work hard to protect our country, and I would like to thank Ssgt. Mingle and Maj. Sajer for such a wonderful opportunity.
To see more photos from the trip to train with our local National Guard soldiers, please read Saturday’s edition of The Daily Herald.