A crash course at Camp Dodge

Jam of the Week: “La Ritournelle” by Sbastien Tellier

Last week, Daily Freeman-Journal readers got just a sneak peek into the training facilities at Camp Dodge in Johnston. It was of those events where it was difficult to describe the many fun things that I got to participate in through a news piece.

By covering the trip that Webster City business owners took to Camp Dodge, I had a chance to experience what it’s like to escape from a rolled vehicle. I took some photos of the first group that entered and I thought I knew what I was getting into. With the second group, I strapped on a helmet and jacket and hopped in the backseat.

After buckling in, the large metal device churned and began to roll us slowly several times before coming to a stop. It was at that point, with my helmet pressed against the ceiling and body weight sandwiching my head, I realized that I had no idea how to unbuckle the seatbelt. Luckily, part of the exercise was to work together as a team. After grunting out a request for help, a teammate reached across the vehicle to unbuckle the latch.

The next part of the exercise required teammates to figure out which door was left unlocked by the guardsman who operated the simulator. With luck on my side again, it was mine and we all exited the vehicle.

Feeling more confident, we did the simulation again. However, this time all of the lights in the room were turned off. The operator could see us with night vision cameras in the simulator, but we could barely see anything in the simulator. This time, I had to crawl through the vehicle to the other side with an unlocked door, carefully stepping over a large hole which would normally be on the top of the vehicle. Even with teammates helping me out, I still hit one of them in the face as I reached for the top of the opened door to stabilize myself. The good Lord gave me writing skills, but apparently not situational awareness.

Next, we stepped onto a virtual shooting range. Having no experience with firearms, I lifted the training rifle which was hooked up to a screen and tried to give countless hours wasted playing video games some purpose. I did pretty well, only missing two out of 20 shots. Still, I was bested by Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce Director Deb Brown, who hit every virtual shot she fired. Thanks for letting me down, childhood spent playing “Duck Hunt.”

Both Deb and I fared poorly on another virtual simulator where we took part in a convoy through hostile territory. I called shotgun while Deb drove and another participant took the gunner’s seat. The operator told me my job was to help the driver navigate and call out what I saw. Of course, I was much more interested in trying out my virtual reality headset than actually helping, so we got lost fairly quickly. Still, I had a good time with my team and had a lot of fun.

We also learned a lot on our trip. Our hosts, the Iowa Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, were very kind and taught us a lot about Camp Dodge and its history and how the Iowa ESGR supports guardsmen in the work force and those who employ them.

What struck me as we rode back to Webster City was how the simulators we had fun with are not games for those who use them. As cool as it is to say that you’ve found your way out of a rolled vehicle, that training can save the lives of those who encounter such a situation. Experience on the virtual shooting range can mean the difference between life and death. Our small glimpse into the training that occurs at Camp Dodge was certainly fun, but it also gave me a deeper appreciation for what those who serve do for each and every one of us.

I’d encourage local business owners to check out the Iowa ESGR on their website or their Facebook page. The event we attended last week was the fourth one they had held this year, and more are on the way. And if you go, remember to check how your seat belt works before the truck starts rolling.