ANDY THOMAS: Visiting Fort Bragg Awesome Experience
There are 10 lanes on a Fort Bragg shooting range accommodating a variety of weapons used currently by the U.S. Army.
The target range is less than 50 feet deep, and it is inside a darkened, air-conditioned building.
If anyone, including the enemy, walked into this facility the other day, they would have been surprised to see, lying on the floor, a group of senior citizens popping off rounds at various moving objectives, which were on a video screen simulating targets anywhere from 50 to 300 yards.
Many of our range participants that day were veterans of earlier wars, part of a group from Pinehurst visiting the fort on an escorted tour.
Every weapon used in the facility, called Engagement Skills Trainer (EST), is a real weapon that has been modified, simulating the action, recoil and feel of the real thing.
Each round that the weapons fire at the screen is actually a laser beam that is tracked and analyzed by the EST computer. If the round hits one of the enemy fighters on the screen, the computer adjusts the scenario to show that he has been wounded or killed.
The EST is an interactive combat simulator where soldiers encounter virtual combat engagements and receive instant feedback from the computer on every shot fired, without the costs or safety risks of firing real ammunition.
Today's soldiers practice rules of engagement that sometime seem too stringent. They have to segregate good guys from bad guys before applying deadly force -- not always easy in a split-second scenario. The EST facilitates this.
I'd been to Fort Bragg before, but it is changing as it grows. It is a city by itself, including its own schools, shopping malls, fast-food restaurants, medical facilities, housing and churches.
Almost every type of recreation and athletics is available, including golf courses, pools, lakes, bowling lanes, hunting fields and craft shops.
With its annexation into Fayetteville, I wonder if Fayetteville residents can now go to the PX and use the Fort's other resources.
We had lunch at the 82nd CAB DFAC, otherwise known as the Pegasus restaurant, which was nicely appointed with ample choices and resembled a K & W Cafeteria. The fare was excellent, and live television offered selections in sports reruns.
Our tour also included a look at the Golden Knights, a team of competitive skydivers who are the most successful parachute team in the world, having collected hundreds of awards and trophies.
In 1959, 13 men joined together to form the Strategic Army Corps Sport Parachute Team, and to compete in the then-communist-dominated sport of skydiving.
The team performed so well that on June 1, 1961, the Army officially recognized, designated and activated the team as the U.S. Army Parachute Team.
For more than 44 years, the Golden Knights have been wowing audiences at air shows, competitions and most recently, with high-profile tandems (two jumpers together on one chute).
The two demonstration teams travel all over the country, performing aerial demonstrations at air shows and special events in support of Army recruiting goals. And two competition teams travel, competing nationally and internationally at various skydiving competitions, continuously bringing home gold, silver and bronze medals. They are the most successful U.S. Department of Defense sports team.
The Golden Knights perform at air shows, compete on an international level, perform high-profile tandems and also visit high schools and work with local recruiters, showing prospects what type of opportunities the Army has for them.
Last April, three female members of the Golden Knights dropped out of the sky at a Lake Norman bass fishing jamboree and each landed in the back of a designated bass boat.
Pinpoint landings are a routine matter for these experts.
Our tour then took us to a large building where Fort Bragg's parachutes are packed. Every packer also jumps and, as chutes are assigned randomly, packers may get the parachute they packed themselves.
Each worker's job is to pack 25 chutes per day, and there are always 4,000 parachutes ready for use.
But there's not too much parachuting going on in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The sophistication of our armed forces is amazing, yet in vain, it seems, when we are fighting terrorist enemies that cannot be distinguished from common locals in the street -- especially young girls who conceal vests of explosives and kill innocent people. We might be tooling up for the wrong war.
This brief cameo of Army life was as fascinating as it was impressive. Not like the Army I experienced 50 years ago. Weapons, methods, training and dining are all much better today.
As a second lieutenant, I had a base pay of $232 per month. Today's second lieutenant makes $2,416 a month.
Almost makes me want to go back to the future.
Andy Thomas lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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