In June, the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, known as the 4-25 Airborne Brigade Combat Team, will be going to the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in Fort Polk, Louisiana. It was a last-minute training opportunity the brigade couldn’t turn down, so now the soldiers are scrambling to prepare.

For three weeks, gunner Pfc. Elier Diaz and his fellow soldiers will basically be living on base, in the wilderness training area. A camouflage net tent and a truck serves as camp.

“This is home,” Diaz said. ”This is my second family, I guess you could say.”

They either sleep in their trucks or on the snowy ground when they’re not training. They’re an artillery battery, responsible for positioning, targeting and firing the massive howitzers. It may seem like a lot of effort, but battalion commander Lt. Col. Rick Johnson says, as the U.S. Army’s premier training facility, attending JRTC is worth it.

“We get to fight against a world-class opposing force that does it full time,” Johnson explained. “We get external evaluators, taking notes and really helping us get better.”

To make sure they’re in top form, the soldiers are running every battle scenario they might face. They have to pack six months of training into just a few weeks.

“We really put them through the ringer,” Johnson said. “We are grading their timeliness and accuracy of every kind of conceivable fire mission they can shoot.”

The fast pace is lighting a fire under Diaz’s unit.

“Motivation. Let’s get out there be the best and out perform everybody else out there,” he said.

Being the best comes with sacrifice. The soldiers are away from their families, while still technically being at home in Alaska. For many, their wives and children are just a short drive away.

“I just think of it as I’m far away, doing my job and be back home at the end of this and be able to hug them and kiss them again,” Diaz said.

He and his fellow soldiers will be training in the field until the end of March. They get a break in April before leaving for JRTC in June.

KTVA 11’s Bonney Bowman can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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