National Guard troops from the mountains of Vermont are training for desert deployment in the fields and forests of South Mississippi.
They arrived at Camp Shelby on January 19th.
Their average age is 24. They approach training and life at full throttle. And though they'll soon deploy to dangerous duty, you'll hear no complaints from these mountain men.
The 63 soldiers take pride in America and Alpha Company.
"We'll let Lenore give me mine. You can watch him do it, then I want you to give Sudai his, okay?,"
said Sgt. Rob Manning, as he prepared to let a fellow guardsman stick a needle in his arm.
He's comfortable in the role of instructor.
"In civilian life, I'm a school teacher. And I teach in Glens Falls, New York. Middle school. Seventh grade English teacher," he explained.
Teaching soldiers to give IV's is more critical than lectures about conjugating verbs.
"Why is it that I want you to be good at that, like so you're not thinking. Why?," Manning asked his young soldier/student.
Starting an IV could be a life saving skill during their deployment in Iraq.
"We're anticipating some heat injuries, heat stroke, heat exhaustion. So, we want the guys to be schooled up and as proficient and comfortable giving IV's and receiving IV's as possible," said Sgt. Manning.
Physical conditioning is another Army emphasis. Sunrise at Camp Shelby finds soldiers testing their endurance.
Each morning, Lee Avenue resembles a high school track competition. Though not all enjoy it, running remains the most popular physical training. The South Mississippi sun is a mere warm up to deployment in a desert.
"Humping through the streets with a lot of gear on. You have the body armor, which is pretty heavy stuff. A lot of gear. Your combat load. And you're going to be moving. And when things get hot, you're definitely going to be moving," Manning said.
Troops in training get "live fire" experience with Bradley fighting vehicles. Range 45 is an enormous training ground. Growing smoke and moving targets give soldiers some sense of the stress and quick decision making required on a battlefield.
"Gets you in your mind set. Gets you mentally and physically prepared. So you can just, if something happens you just do it. Immediately know what to do," said Sgt. Mark Stiner.
"Basically what they try to do is simulate what it's going to be like when we get over in country. And we operate pretty much independently on our own as a battalion," explained soldier Jerry Altiri.
Army chow is often an adventure. MRE's or meals ready to eat, aren't at bad as you'd imagine.
"It's like eating a sloppy joe, only the burger is not the sloppy part," said one soldier, as he chowed down a veggie burger.
The 63 soldiers of Vermont's Alpha Company have just a few weeks of training left before heading overseas. During our visit, they were packing up for some final training in the desert of California. This unit that arrived at Camp Shelby in late January, is ready to serve.
"They're morale is just, it's self internal. They bring it to the plate on their own. I'd like to take credit for it, but I don't and shouldn't. They, I don't know where they get it from, but every day they wake up and they want to do it. They wanted the job. And they just go at it very hard," said Lt. Mark Dooley.
Eugene Duplisis can't imagine serving with any other unit.
"The teamwork here. The way that leaders lead and the soldiers follow. It's got an amazing teamwork and just everything clicks," he said.
After two weeks of training in California, the 63 soldiers will enjoy a brief leave with their families, before heading to Iraq in late June.