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National Guard troops train at WCCC facility in South Huntingdon

Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Members of Company D of the 112th Infantry Regiment, Pennsylvania National Guard, based in Hamburg, Berks County, demonstrate an urban assault drill at Westmoreland County Community College's Public Safety Training Center near Smithton on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012.

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By Jennifer Reeger
Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

The gunfire rang out just after noon.

Soldiers from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard were after a high-level target and were taking fire from Arab insurgents on a roof.

As an anti-tank Stryker vehicle patrolled the area, the soldiers managed to make their way into the building and up the stairs.

Then the radio call came:

“Three-six, this is three-five. We got Geronimo,” the soldier said.

The successful “mission” unfolded in the unlikeliest of places — Westmoreland County Community College's Public Safety Training Center in South Huntingdon.

And while Friday's event was a demonstration, it wasn't mere war games.

The soldiers in Company D of the 112th Infantry Regiment, based in Hamburg, Berks County, are using the facility all weekend to hone their skills and learn new ones.

They put on a community demonstration Friday to give the public a glimpse of their training and equipment.

“Our weekends are jam-packed with training,” said Capt. Robert Prah, the company commander. “We're moving all the time.”

The company typically holds its training weekends at Fort Indiantown Gap or at Fort Dix, N.J.

But Prah, after using the South Huntingdon facility earlier this year for a military competition, sought permission to hold a training weekend there.

“Living right down the road, it's one of the best-kept secrets in Westmoreland County,” said Prah, who lives in Smithton.

Community college officials were happy to oblige.

Bob Martin, coordinator of law enforcement and homeland security programs at WCCC, said the training facility has been used by Army Reserve units, but Prah's company is the first National Guard unit to do so.

He said the facility has a lot to offer — from a shooting range to buildings that can replicate an urban setting for an assault to fields that can be used for marches.

“It comes down to you play like you practice,” Martin said. “If you don't have a good place to practice, you might not play so well.”

Company members arrived Thursday night and are staying in tents on the 166-acre facility's grounds until training ends Sunday morning.

They are training in a number of areas, including traffic control, night vision, urban assault and reaction to sniper fire. They'll use the facility's shooting range, as well as two buildings where law enforcement and firefighters train.

Their work will culminate in a two-hour operation Saturday night, when they must locate and capture a target in a building under cover of darkness.

Prah said the facility allows the company to receive more training because everything they need is in one location. When they train at a base, they must travel to different activities, which leaves some soldiers with a lot of down time.

“To me, it made a ton of sense to come out here,” he said.

But instead of just holding the training, Prah wanted to show community members what his company does.

So he held Friday's demonstration for county leaders, and employees and students of WCCC and Prah's employer, California University of Pennsylvania.

Spectators got to see close-up the anti-tank Stryker vehicles, which can fire guided missiles more than 3,000 meters. The 60-ton vehicles and the four soldiers manning them provide suppressive fire for the infantrymen on the ground.

And they got to see “Geronimo” captured.

Martin, an Army veteran of the Cold War, said he thought the demonstration was a great idea.

“Since I've been in, things have changed so drastically,” he said.

Sylvia Detar, director of continuing education at WCCC, thanked the soldiers for the event.

“It's very interesting,” she said. “I think its important for civilians to learn and understand what our military does and how they do it.”

Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or jreeger@tribweb.com.

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