Reporter Learns Combat Training the Hard Way

Humvee rollover training a "must" before deployment to Afghanistan

Even as the "surge" initiated by President Obama starts to wind down, another 44 Army National Guardsmen from New Jersey are about to be deployed to Afghanistan.

And at Fort Dix, N.J., those guardsmen underwent intensive last-minute training that included survival in a Humvee rollover.

As the huge simulator turns on its axis with five soldiers inside, shouts of "rollover, rollover, rollover," echo throughout the cavernous indoor training hall.

The only things that kept the soldiers from becoming a jumble of broken bones were strong safety harnesses akin to what a fighter jet pilot wears.

"I was a little shocked," said Spc. Matthew Lavelle, of Spotswood, N.J., after taking a spin in the huge mechanism. "It's not comfortable, it's not comfortable at all."

I, an NBC New York reporter, can testify to that lack of comfort after the trainers strapped me in for my own turn in the contraption. They spun it 180 degrees, then left me hanging upside down with orders to get out on my own.

Humvee rollovers are frequent in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan.

Lavelle's discomfort is real. As I learned, you have to brace yourself with just one arm to the roof of the vehicle (in the upside down position, think "floor") and use your other hand to release the seat belt.

At that point, you tumble down and then have to extricate yourself from the vehicle (in my case, it included a sharp tap on the head that was not at all buffered by the helmet I was wearing).

Despite the hazards, many members of this particular platoon seemed to welcome the challenge of a second, third or even fourth tour of duty.

"It takes a special breed of person to do this job," said Sgt. Trident Villanueva of Jersey City.

When asked if he was that "special breed," Villanuava did not hesitate.

"Absolutely," he said.

Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY

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