Thousands of Washington National Guard members are all in Yakima to train for deployment and combat.
It’s the biggest training mission in more than a decade.
KIRO7’s Deedee Sun got an inside look at the intense three-week training session in the remote Yakima desert.
“The exercise is critical,” said Major Nicholas Stuart with the Washington National Guard. “To get as close as we can to simulating a combat operation,” he said.
The desert brings dust, wind and heat.
“When you're wearing your full kit, it's 90 degrees outside, you're just sweating constantly,” said Private2 Irina Khrushch of the Washington National Guard.
Plus, an isolation that forces developing new skills – there’s desert as far as the eye can see.
“Planning and preparing,” said Sgt. Michael Kohowski with the Washington National Guard.
Teams in striker vehicles do the scouting.
“To relay info to the infantry so they know what they're coming up against,” Kohowski said.
Conveys handle delivering supplies and other teams work on logistics.
Then there are crews training directly for combat, firing a big piece of artillery -- a M777 Howitzer. It can hit a target 11 miles away.
"This is the business end of the artillery. This is where the rubber meets the road," one member of the command staff said.
The people out here are mostly part of the 81st Brigade, which is headquartered in Seattle.
But they come from units spread across the state. And it’s not just people the National Guard has in Yakima. The Guard brought in 400 to 500 military vehicles for the training session.
About quarter of the military vehicles came from the Armory in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood. And no easy feat getting the tankers through Seattle traffic.
Right now every training and mission requires people to come into Seattle to access the armory, then get in the military vehicles there before going where they need to.
“We can spend an hour just to get out of Seattle,” said Col. Adam Iwaszuk with the Guard.
But beyond wasting time, the bigger concern is if disaster hits the population center of Seattle, it would be much more difficult for Guard to respond using the resources at Interbay.
“We have to plan and prepare for the worst, and the worst is that we would not be able to respond at all from that location,” Iwaszuk said.
Those are few of the reasons why the Armory is looking at a new site for its headquarters -- likely in North Bend.
But meanwhile, they’re soldiering on -- as they're doing in in Eastern Washington.
“We are preparing for Poland,” Stuart said.
The next deployment is a peacekeeping mission but the Guard knows a lot could change before then.
“This Brigade has deployed to Iraq twice. The world changes rapidly, so basically our mindset is to maintain readiness and flexibility,” Stuart said. “Because we may get re-missioned elsewhere,” he said.
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