Contractor Hiring Locals To Play Iraqis For Troop Training

More than 150 people are seeking a chance to work as role players during field training for Tennessee National Guard troops at Camp Shelby.

As many as 200 will be hired by Virginia-based Goldbelt Eagle to play Iraqis in villages, at checkpoints and along roads near a forward operating base where the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment will train before deploying to Iraq. The jobs pay $12.05 per hour, and most will be full-time for up to three months.

"It pays good,'' said Cameron Owens, 20, of Collins, as he filled out the application Wednesday. "That's why I'm interested, and if you think about it, you're helping out the military.''

The company has contracted role players at military installations throughout the eastern United States, but this is the first time to do so at Camp Shelby, said Mike Murley, director of the training division in Fayetteville, N.C.

"We'll be providing two types of role players,'' he said. "The first will be selected Arab-Americans or Iraqi-Americans.

"In this case, all of them will have worked for us before. They're sort of the featured players,'' he said. "Because of the size of the requirement, we hire a number of local folks.''

Acting experience is not required, but a willingness to follow instructions is.

"We look for people who can stay within the script the military establishes,'' Murley said. "They have to be physically fit enough to stay outside all day.''

The first role players hired will undergo 40 hours of paid training next week before field work starts, probably the last week of June.

"They'll be broken down into teams but we don't know the team schedule yet,'' said John Van, director of operations.

Applicants such as James Kersh, 28, of Oak Grove, have an advantage because he recently spent a year in Iraq with the National Guard. Kersh changed jobs after he returned to the area from active duty but then was laid off.

"I was there,'' he said. "I saw everything that went on, from the mortar rounds to the rockets.''

Another applicant, Michael Floyd, 37, of Hattiesburg, recently retired from the active Army unit at Camp Shelby that is training the Tennessee troops.

"So now I'm on the other side,'' he said. "I like doing this kind of stuff. It's going to be different for some of them, but it's a good experience, knowing you did your part to help them out.''

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)