May 22, 2006

“Young Warriors” get a taste of Army life

By Staff Sgt. A.J. Coyne
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

Participants in the Virginia National Guard’s Warrior Weekend prepare to rappel. (Photo by Staff Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office)

BLACKSTONE, Va. -- More than 300 “soon-to-be” Soldiers descended on Fort Pickett April 21-23 for the first-ever Virginia Army National Guard Warrior Weekend. The three-day event gave the “young warriors” a taste of basic training and Army life.

“It was awesome,” said Heather Fender, who will leave for basic training in June. “This is good training to get people ready for basic. It’s a good program and shows us what it’ll be like when we get there.”

The weekend was conducted by the Virginia Army National Guard’s Recruit Sustainment Program, which was established to prepare its non-prior service Soldiers for basic training and advanced individual training. The aim of Warrior Weekend is to create a low intensity version of basic training and AIT so the recruits are physically, mentally and administratively prepared when they arrive.

For three days at Fort Pickett, the recruits lived as Soldiers. They wore BDU’s, slept in barracks, marched in formation, and learned when to salute and when to stand at parade rest. They also performed physical training, learned rappelling, traversed the Leader Reaction Course and practiced urban tactics at the Pickett MOUT site.

Unfortunately, a steady stream of rain forced the cancellation of some scheduled events. But the weekend was still a valuable learning opportunity for the recruits.

“You could tell they had all kinds of things planned for us,” said Michael Marchi, a recruit from Albermarle County. “The Leader Reaction Course was definitely good because it included everyone. We were so busy that we didn’t have time to think about being cold or wet.”

Although they were all Soldiers for the weekend, the recruits came from all over the commonwealth and from all walks of life. As a result, they each have their own reason for joining the National Guard.

Marchi joined because a close friend was recently killed in Iraq. Now he feels it’s his turn to serve in the infantry. He leaves for basic training in January 2007.

Meanwhile Fender, a high school junior from Jarratt, has known for some time that she would join the military. A member of her high school JROTC for two years, Fender said her instructor has served as a father figure and role model to her.

“I just wanted to do something different with my life,” said Michael Langhorne, a high school junior from Sandston who decided in February to join the military. Langhorne will spend his summer at Fort Benning, where he’ll undergo basic training before returning for his senior year of high school.

But before they could each head off to basic training, they got a weekend-long lesson in what to expect in the Army and for many of them, it was better than they expected.

“I had fun this weekend and everything went by quickly,” Langhorne said. “I really liked the LRC and seeing people fall in the water.”

“I wish we would’ve run more but it was exciting,” said Fender, who said she loves doing PT and running. “We got to meet interesting people and other Soldiers who are going to be going through the same thing in a little while.”

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