After field work in often chilly conditions in New Jersey, deployed troops of the 194th Armor will have Thanksgiving off.
In October, the 152 Minnesota Army National Guard soldiers in Company A, 1st Battalion, 194th Armor left for training at Fort Dix, N.J., in preparation for an 18-month deployment with one year spent in Iraq somewhere near Baghdad.
Soldiers are expecting to leave Fort Dix for Kuwait the week before Christmas.
Capt. Mike Pazdernik, who leads the 194th, is keeping in touch from New Jersey via e-mail and will be sending regular updates to the Dispatch.
Pazdernik, 30, from Little Falls, said the Thanksgiving Day break is the first day without scheduled training in the 40 days the troops have been at Fort Dix. They will be back to work Friday and through the weekend on weapons training. And training is expected to continue until a couple of days before the soldiers leave for Kuwait.
Soldiers have been working on base defense and convoy operations, including a live-fire exercise from a simulated base camp facing mechanical pop-up, moving and stationary targets. Soldiers also will train with a live-fire convoy exercise simulating a convoy under attack.
"Every chance we get to shoot makes our soldiers more confident in their abilities," Pazdernik wrote. "... The soldiers are figuring out their strengths and weaknesses. They are helping each other, taking care of each other, and are becoming a band of brothers. It has been an amazing process to watch and be part of."
Field training conditions had soldiers living in tents -- 14 to 30 soldiers each.
"There is a unit here from Arizona and they haven't figured out how to handle the fact that the mud puddles are frozen in the morning," Pazdernik wrote of the living conditions earlier this month.
He said the Minnesota living experience was helping troops deal with living in the cold weather. Each tent had one stove and hot meals arrived for breakfast and dinner.
Pazdernik said the good food helped keep morale high. But he said the other main reason for good spirits came from the high praise the soldiers received from Fort Dix trainers. Scenarios had troops focusing on rapid decision-making.
"We are American soldiers and it is our duty to preserve innocent life whenever possible," Pazdernik wrote.
"We are training our soldiers to walk the fine line between engaging threats rapidly and accurately versus not engaging innocent civilians or personnel that do not pose an immediate threat.
"These decisions have to be made in a split-second. After each scenario they conduct an after action review to talk about what happened and what they can do better next time."
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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