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'Do what you gotta do and get out of there'

July 25, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The bullets were blanks.

The ambush was simulated.

The enemy was truly comrades.

But the command given Saturday to the New Jersey National Guard's 253rd Transport Company would be the same whether training in the woods at Letterkenny Army Depot or fighting in the desert of Iraq.

"If you're not in the kill zone, don't enter. And if you are, do what you gotta do and get out of there," 1st Sgt. Kevin Lewis said.

The New Jersey Army National Guard wrapped up its first week of summer training Saturday at the depot in Chambersburg.

First Sgt. Greg Stevens, who also is the depot's sergeant major, said the unit will train at Letterkenny for two weeks.

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Letterkenny has been seeking units to train at the 18,000-acre facility, Stevens said.

"Our goal is to continue training as many soldiers here as we can," he said.

Staff Sgt. Sam Caraballo of the 253rd Transport Company said Letterkenny has been an ideal place to train the company, which is based in Cape May Court House, N.J.

The 253rd Transport Company is a light-medium truck company, Caraballo said. It operates and maintains the vehicles used for transporting soldiers and equipment.

The company will train for two weeks to build the skills necessary to operate transport vehicles in combat, Caraballo said.

"We are training the soldiers in a real-world setting," he said. "We are doing a round-robin training exercise where we are conducting convoy operations, a truck rodeo, which is basically an obstacle for trucks, and warrior training."

Company Commander Capt. James Sharp said the two-week intensive exercise is annual training for his soldiers.

The company is not scheduled to deploy any time soon, he said.

Regardless of when the unit is called to serve, the skills honed at Letterkenny will serve the men and women of the 253rd well, Caraballo said.

Stevens said Letterkenny has hosted 5,000 training days this year. One day of training for one soldier is calculated as one training day for the base.

Stevens estimated 500 soldiers have trained this year at the depot from National Guard units in New Jersey, Georgia and Washington state.

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