Pop, pop, pop, pop.
As simulated artillery fire and grenade explosions echoed across the dry, dusty ground, squad members crawled on their knees and elbows. In another corner of the training zone, others strapped with automatic rifles kicked in a door while clearing a house in search of terrorists.
The battlefield was a forward operating base on Fort Gordon simulating the conditions of bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. The soldiers-in-training were CEOs, bankers, hospital administrators and other Augusta professionals who traded business suits for military fatigues.
On Tuesday, eight Augustans got a taste of overseas deployment during the first of a two-day “Augusta in Army Boots” exercise. The program resumed this week after classes were canceled last year because of funding cuts.
After crawling through a mud pit, Trinity Hospital CEO Jason Studley attempted to wipe sand away from his eyes and off his face.
He listened to instructions for checking a house for enemies as water dripped from his fingertips and sweat beaded on his forehead.
“My appreciation (for the military) has absolutely skyrocketed, and we’re not even halfway through the first day,” Studley said.
Strapping on combat boots helped Studley gain a better understanding of a soldier’s experiences and sacrifices. He expected to use the Army’s training and leadership skills when he returns to his desk later this week.
“The training out here and the building of leaders is absolutely amazing. That’s something we can use in the private sector,” he said.
The civilians learned combat training, life-saving skills, familiarity with weapons, basic movement techniques, battle drills and how to react to enemy contact, said 1st Lt. Kashmir Rhymes, an officer in the 35th Signal Brigade who helped organize the class.
“This helps them better understand what we do, the importance of what we do and the impact their support has on soldiers and their families,” Rhymes said.
For Phyllis Salazar, carrying a bulky rucksack and wearing a heavy helmet was a big departure from her typical day at the office.
Salazar, a branch manager and loan officer for First Bank of Augusta, said the experience was important for city leaders who work to support Fort Gordon.
“It makes you more aware of what they actually do and what they go through,” she said. “This is certainly not a combat situation, so we couldn’t appreciate that, but it still gives you a taste of what this is.”
The participants, who slept overnight in tents, will become honorary lieutenants during a graduation ceremony today. Another class of Augusta professionals and leaders will experience the program during a two-day session in October.