The largest training exercise in Alaska in 15 years is happening at the Donnelly Training Area, just outside Delta Junction. Five thousand soldiers and support personnel are participating in a war exercise that’s as realistic as possible.

The Alaska soldiers are playing the “good guys.” Among them is the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Platoon from Fort Wainwright.

“We’re trying to find bad people doing bad things,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tyler Hervey, the platoon sergeant.

The UAV acts as an eye in the sky, scouting for the “bad guys,” played by Iowa National Guardsmen.

“We know exactly where they’re located, how many there are, what they’re using so we can determine the best routes of attack,” Hervey said. Once the enemy is spotted, “We’ll maintain positive identification until friendly forces arrive and destroy them.”

Playing enemy insurgents isn’t the role the Iowa Guardsmen are used to.

“It definitely doesn’t feel good, waking up in the morning saying, ‘Let’s go kill Americans today,’ so that’s a little bit of a different feeling,” said 1st Lt. Kyle Cooper, a platoon leader with the Iowa National Guard.

He said despite that, they’re playing to win. This is a freethinking exercise, so unlike the usual staged training, they can be unpredictable, just like in the real world.

“We can kind of use our own minds to think how we would defeat our own forces and then kind of make plans from there,” Cooper said. “We don’t necessarily have to go off U.S. Army doctrine.”

During battles, the soldiers use equipment similar to laser tag. A hit means a soldier is either killed or injured and is a way for each side to keep score. It’s a good learning experience for both sides and they say about as close to the real thing as they can get — whether it’s the soldiers fighting on the ground or the UAV in the sky, warning of danger ahead.

“It’s definitely a positive feeling knowing that you potentially saved many lives,” Hervey said.

The training exercise started in mid-July and wraps up later this week. Besides the soldiers from Iowa and Alaska, personnel from Hawaii and Canada are also taking part.

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